Great Western Main Line

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Great Western Main Line
Railway bridge Maidenhead.jpeg
Maidenhead Railway Bridge carrying the line over the River Thames.
Overview
Type Commuter rail, High-speed rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
South East England
South West England
Termini London Paddington
Bristol Temple Meads
Stations 25
Operation
Opening 30 June 1841 (complete line)
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) First Great Western
Heathrow Connect
Heathrow Express
Chiltern Railways
CrossCountry
South West Trains
Depot(s) Reading TMD
Old Oak Common TMD
Rolling stock Class 43 "HST"
Class 57
Class 150 "Sprinter"
Class 153 "Super Sprinter"
Class 158 "Express Sprinter"
Class 159 "South Western Turbo"
Class 165 "Networker Turbo"
Class 166 "Networker Turbo Express"
Class 180 "Adelante"
Class 220 "Voyager"
Class 221 "Super Voyager"
Class 332
Class 360 "Desiro"
Technical
Line length 119 mi (192 km)
No. of tracks Four (London to Didcot)
Two (Didcot to Bristol)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Old gauge 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm)
Electrification 25kV 50hz AC
(Paddington to Airport Junction)
Operating speed 125 mph (201 km/h) maximum
Great Western Main Line
Miles
Circle & Hammersmith & City lines
0.00 enlarge… London Paddington London Underground
Royal Oak
Subway Junction
Westbourne Park
Circle & Hammersmith & City lines
A40 Westway
West London Line
1 - Old Oak Common TMD
2 - North Pole depot
Old Oak West Junction
New North Main Line
Central line
to Central London
North London Line
Central line
to North Acton
A40 Western Avenue
4.25 Acton Main Line
Central line
to North Acton
District line
5.75 enlarge… Ealing Broadway London Underground
6.50 West Ealing
Greenford Branch Line
Plasser Works
7.25 Hanwell
Wharncliffe Viaduct
over River Brent
Brentford Branch Line
9.00 Southall
Grand Union Canal
10.75 Hayes and Harlington
Airport Junction
to Heathrow Airport
13.25 West Drayton
River Colne
London
Home Counties
Uxbridge (Vine Street) Branch Line
to Colnbrook and
former Staines West branch
M25 motorway
14.75 Iver
16.25 Langley
18.50 Slough
Slough to Windsor & Eton Line
21.00 Burnham
22.50 Taplow
Jubilee River
Maidenhead Railway Bridge
over River Thames
24.25 Maidenhead
Marlow Branch Line
A404(M) motorway
31.00 Twyford
Henley Branch Line
River Loddon
Sonning Cutting
1 mile long
max. depth 60'
River Kennet
Waterloo to Reading Line
North Downs Line
Reading East Junction
36.00 Reading
Reading to Basingstoke Line
and Reading to Taunton line
38.75 Tilehurst
Purley Cutting
41.50 Pangbourne
Gatehampton Railway Bridge
over River Thames
44.75 Goring & Streatley
Moulsford Railway Bridge
over River Thames
48.50 Cholsey
Cholsey and Wallingford Railway
former
Didcot, Newbury and
Southampton Railway
53.25 Didcot Parkway
Cherwell Valley Line
leading to Cotswold Line
Steventon
Stocks Lane, Steventon
The Causeway, Steventon
former Wantage Tramway
Wantage Road
A417 road
Challow
Uffington
former Faringdon branch
Shrivenham
Stratton Park Halt
former Highworth Branch
(now goods only)
77.25 Swindon
Golden Valley Line
M4 motorway
Wootton Bassett
South Wales Main Line
Dauntsey
former Malmesbury branch
Christian Malford Halt
former Calne branch
94.00 Chippenham
Thingley Junction
Wessex Main Line
via Melksham
Corsham
Box Tunnel
2939 yd 
2687 m 
Box (Mill Lane) Halt(1930-1965)
Box
Bathford Halt(1929-1965)
Bathford Bridge
over River Avon
Wessex Main Line
Bathampton Junction
Bathampton
Hampton Row Halt
107.00 Bath Spa
108.00 Oldfield Park
Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway
Twerton-on-Avon
Twerton Tunnel
Saltford Tunnel
Saltford
114.00 Keynsham
Keynsham Tunnel
St Anne's Park
Bristol and North Somerset Railway
St Philips Marsh TMD
Cross Country Route
118.50 Bristol Temple Meads
Bristol to Exeter Line

The Great Western Main Line is a main line railway in Great Britain, that runs westwards from London's Paddington station to the west of England and South Wales. The core Great Western Main Line runs from London Paddington to Temple Meads railway station in Bristol. A major branch of the Great Western, the South Wales Main Line, diverges from the core line west of Swindon and terminates in Swansea. The term "Great Western" is also used by Network Rail and other rail transport organisations in the UK rail industry to denote a wider group of associated routes.

The core London–Bristol Temple Meads line is the original route of the pre-1948 Great Western Railway which was subsequently taken over by the Western Region of British Railways and is now part of the Network Rail system.

The line is planned to be electrified by 2016.[citation needed] The South Wales Main Line, the Cherwell Valley Line and the Reading to Taunton Line as far as Newbury will also be electrified at later dates.

History[edit]

The line was built by the Great Western Railway and engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel as a dual track line using a wider 7 ft (2,134 mm) broad gauge and was opened in stages between 1838 and 1840. The alignment was so level and straight it was nicknamed ‘Brunel’s Billiard Table’. It was supplemented with a third rail for dual gauge operation allowing standard gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) trains to also operate on the route in stages between 1854 and 1875. Dual gauge was introduced as follows: London to Reading (1 October 1861), Reading to Didcot (22 December 1856), Didcot to Swindon (February 1872), Swindon to Thingley Junction, Chippenham (June 1874), Thingley Junction to Bathampton (16 March 1875), Bathampton to Bristol (June 1874), Bristol station area (29 May 1854). The broad gauge remained in use until 1892. Evidence of the original broad gauge can still be seen at many places where bridges are a wider than usual, or where tracks are ten feet apart instead of the usual six.

The original dual tracks were widened to four track in various places between 1877 and 1899. Paddington to Southall (1 October 1877), Southall to West Drayton (25 November 1878), West Drayton to Slough (1 June 1879), Slough to east side of Maidenhead Bridge (8 September 1884), Maidenhead Bridge to Reading (4 June 1893), Reading station (1899), Reading to Pangbourne (30 July 1893), Pangbourne to Cholsey and Moulsford (?), Cholsey and Moulsford to Didcot (27 December 1892), Various short sections between Didcot and Swindon, and at Bristol.

Following the Slough rail accident in 1900 when five passengers were killed improved vacuum braking systems were used on locomotives and passenger rolling stock and Automatic Train Control (ATC) was introduced in 1908.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Great Western Railway was taken into government control, as were most major railways in Britain and were reorganised after the war into the "big four" companies, of which the Great Western Railway was one. The railways returned to direct government control during World War II before being nationalised to form British Railways in 1948.

The line speed was upgraded in the 1970s to support the introduction of the InterCity 125 (HST).[1]

In 1977 the Parliamentary Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommmended considering electrification of more of Britain's rail network, and by 1979 BR presented a range of options that included electrifying the GW Main Line from Paddington to Swansea by 2000.[2] Under the 1979–90 Conservative governments that succeeded the 1976–79 Labour government the proposal was not implemented.

In August 2008 it was announced that a number of speed limits on the relief lines between Reading and London have been raised so that 86% of the line can be used at 90 miles per hour (140 km/h),[3] however the time allowed between stations for trains running on the relief lines has been reduced in the December 2008 timetable to improve timekeeping.[4]

Route[edit]

The communities served by the Great Western Main Line include: West London (including Acton, Ealing, Hanwell, Southall, Hayes, Harlington and West Drayton); Iver; Langley; Slough; Burnham; Taplow; Maidenhead; Twyford; Reading; Tilehurst; Goring-on-Thames; Streatley; Cholsey; Didcot; Swindon; Chippenham; Bath; Keynsham; and Bristol.

From London to Didcot, the line follows the Thames Valley, crossing the River Thames three times, including on the famous Maidenhead Railway Bridge. After Swindon, trains pass the Swindon Steam Railway Museum. From Wootton Bassett there are two different routes to Bristol, firstly via Box Tunnel and secondly via Bristol Parkway.

It is also possible to run via the Wessex Main Line, but this involves a reversal at Bradford Junction, so is only really suitable for multiple unit trains or via Reading to Bath via Newbury. Trains on the Great Western Main Line are sometimes diverted from Reading along the Reading to Taunton line, as far as Westbury, from where they can use the Wessex Main Line to reach either Chippenham, or Bath Spa. Beyond Bristol, some trains continue on the Bristol to Taunton Line to Weston-super-Mare or beyond.

The following routes as managed by Network Rail as part of the Great Western Main Line (Route 13):[5] Didcot to Oxford and Worcester via the Cherwell Valley Line and Cotswold Line, Swindon to Cheltenham Spa via the Golden Valley Line, Swindon to Cardiff Central and Swansea via the South Wales Main Line, Cross Country Routes south of Birmingham and also all connecting branch lines.

Services[edit]

Main line and local services are provided by First Great Western (FGW). The stations served by express trains between London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads are: Slough, Reading, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Chippenham, Bath Spa and Keynsham. Not all trains call at all of these stations, especially Slough, Didcot and Keynsham.

Fast trains from Paddington to London Heathrow Airport are operated by BAA as the Heathrow Express. Local services on this route are jointly operated by FGW and BAA under the Heathrow Connect name.

CrossCountry operate trains between Reading and Oxford, using the Great Western Main Line as far as Didcot and South West Trains operate a limited number of trains between Bath and Bristol.

First Great Western also operate a train between London Paddington – Cardiff Central every 30 minutes, with hourly extensions to Swansea. At Swansea/Cardiff there is a connecting Arriva Trains Wales boat train to/from Fishguard Harbour railway station for the Stena Line ferry to Rosslare Europort in Ireland. An integrated timetable is offered between London Paddington and Rosslare Europort with through ticketing available.[6] Daytime and nocturnal journeys are offered in both directions daily (including Sundays). Additionally, 2–3 First Great Western trains continue to Pembroke Dock on weekends during the Summer season to connect with ferry services to Ireland.

Infrastructure[edit]

Between London and Didcot there are four tracks, grouped by speed with the "relief" lines on the north side of the "main" lines. Most smaller stations only have platforms in use on the relief lines. Between Didcot and Royal Wootton Bassett there are a series of passing loops lines to allow fast trains to overtake slower ones. This section is also signalled for bi-directional running on each line but this facility is usually only used during engineering working or when there is significant disruption to traffic in one direction.

The line is currently not electrified except for a short 12 miles section of electrified 25 kV AC overhead wires between Paddington and Airport Junction (the junction with the line to London Heathrow Airport near Hayes).

The line speed is 125 miles per hour (201 km/h). The relief lines from Paddington to Didcot are currently limited to 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) as far as Reading, and then 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) to Didcot. Lower restrictions apply at various locations. It is one of only two Network Rail-owned lines to be equipped with the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, the other being the Chiltern Main Line.

Planned developments[edit]

The Great Western is currently undergoing a £5 billion modernisation by Network Rail.[7]

Reading railway station is undergoing a major redevelopment with new platforms, a new entrance, footbridge and lifts.[8]

Swansea railway station is to undergo renovation which will include an enlarged concourse, a new entrance, a new partition wall between concourse and platforms together with a new cafe and more shops.[9][10]

A major renewal programme is underway from bases at Reading and Taunton.

Electrification west of Airport Junction[edit]

As part of Crossrail the Great Western was already planned to be electrified from Airport Junction to Maidenhead but, following a number of announcements and delays the government announced in March 2011 that the line would be electrified between London and Cardiff together with the section linking Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads.[11][12]

Other proposals[edit]

Network Rail plans to install European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) in-cab signalling on the Great Western line:[13][14] this is a pre-requisite for the new Super Express trains to run at 140 mph (225 km/h).[15] Some or all of the resignalling work will be done during the electrification work.[13]

Further capacity improvements are also scheduled at Swindon, adding to recent changes and the new Platform 4.

Crossrail services are planned to terminate at Reading. Some of the current suburban services into London Paddington are planned to be transferred to the new Crossrail service, which will in turn free up some surface-level capacity at London Paddington.[13]

By 2016, there are plans for a direct rail link from Swindon to London Heathrow Airport.[16] There are also calls for the reintroduction of a station at Corsham[17] due to recent growth of the town. The original station was closed to passengers in 1965.

Other more distant aspirations include resignalling and capacity improvements at Reading; the provision of four continuous tracks between Didcot and Swindon (including a grade-separated junction at Milton, where the down (westbound) relief line switches from the north side of the line to the south); and resignalling between Bath and Bristol to enable trains to run closer together. A local group is campaigning for the reopening of Saltford station between Bath and Bristol, to coincide with electrification.[18]

Access to Heathrow Airport from the west remains an aspiration and there is a proposed future link to Heathrow Airport directly from Reading under the Heathrow Airtrack scheme which would use a route south of the Great Western main line. Plans for electrification of the line will make it easier to access Heathrow from Reading given that lack of electrification between Reading station and Heathrow Airport Junction near West Drayton station was a limiting factor.[13]

Network Rail intends to replace the ATP system with ETCS – Level 2[19] from 2017 to 2035 along with the introduction of the new IEP trains.

Signalling Solutions is to resignal the 12 miles from Paddington to West Drayton, including the Airport branch, as part of the Crossrail project.[20]

Incidents[edit]

Slough rail accident[edit]

The Slough rail accident in June 1900 occurred after an express train from Paddington to Falmouth Docks ran through two sets of signals at danger, and collided with a local train heading for Windsor. The collision resulted in the death of 5 passengers, and 35 were seriously injured.

Ealing rail crash[edit]

The Ealing rail crash occurred on 19 December 1973 when a train from Paddington to Oxford derailed: ten passengers were killed and 94 injured. The cause of the accident was a loose battery box cover on the BR Class 52 "Western" locomotive, that struck line side equipment, causing a set of points to move under the train.

Southall rail crash[edit]

The Southall rail crash in 1997 resulted in seven deaths and 139 injuries and severely damaged public confidence in the safety of the rail system. It was found that the train's AWS was faulty, and the driver had been distracted (he had bent down to pack his bag). Great Western Trains was fined £1.5 million for violations of health and safety law in connection with the accident.

Ladbroke Grove rail crash[edit]

The Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 1999 resulted in 31 deaths (including the drivers of both trains) and more than 520 injured. It remains the worst rail accident on the Great Western Main Line. Thames Trains was fined a record £2 million for violations of health and safety law in connection with this accident.[21] Network Rail pleaded guilty to charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in relation to the accident. It was subsequently fined £4 million and was also ordered to pay £225,000 in costs.[22]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Collins, R.J. "High speed track on the Western Region of British Railways". Institute of Civil Engineers. Retrieved 18 May 2009. 
  2. ^ Anonymous (Winter 1979). Railway Electrification. British Railways Board (Central Publicity Unit). pp. 0–2, 8. 
  3. ^ "First Great Western Customer Panel". First Great Western. Retrieved 24 November 2008. 
  4. ^ "West Coast dominates timetable changes". Modern Railways (Ian Allan Publishing) 65 (723): 46–50. 2008. ISSN 0026-8356. 
  5. ^ "2007 Business Plan" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  6. ^ "Sail and Rail to Britain | Train and Ferry Travel to England & Wales | Stena Line". Stenaline.ie. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  7. ^ "Modernising the Great Western (page 8)". Network Rail. 
  8. ^ "£425M transformation planned at Reading". railnews.co.uk. 
  9. ^ "City rail station to be revamped". BBC News. 8 February 2010. Retrieved 24 May 2010. 
  10. ^ "Transformation of Swansea Station unveiled". Rail-News.com. 2010-02-08. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  11. ^ RailNews.co.uk "Great Western electrification and IEP to go ahead". 
  12. ^ "Modernising the Great Western (page 9)". Network Rail. 
  13. ^ a b c d "DfT Rail Electrification paper". Dft.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  14. ^ "Modernising the Great Western (page 11)". Network Rail. 
  15. ^ See Hitachi Super Express article
  16. ^ "Swindon 2026". Swindon Borough Council. Retrieved 24 February 2008. 
  17. ^ "Corsham Station Campaign". Corsham Station Campaign. Retrieved 16 June 2008. 
  18. ^ "Saltford Station Campaign News". Retrieved 8 January 2012. 
  19. ^ "Network Rail Train Infrastructure Interface Specification". Dft.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  20. ^ Nigel Harris, ed. (June 1–14, 2011). "GWML signalling contract signed". RAIL (671): 17. 
  21. ^ "Thames Trains fined £2m for Paddington crash". The Guardian. 5 April 2004. 
  22. ^ "Paddington crash prompts £4m fine". BBC News Online. 30 March 2007. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Pre-grouping Atlas and Gazetteer. Shepperton: Ian Allan Limited. 1976. ISBN 0-7110-0320-3. 
  • MacDermot, E T (1927). History of the Great Western Railway, volume I 1833-1863. London: Great Western Railway. 
  • MacDermot, E T (1931). History of the Great Western Railway, volume II 1863-1921. London: Great Western Railway. 

External links[edit]