The Bristolian (train)
Story of the train
The Bristolian was inaugurated in 1935 by the Great Western Railway (GWR) to celebrate the opening of the Great Western main line from Paddington to Bristol in 1835., and is notable in that the route taken differed in the up and down directions. The down train (from Paddington) took Brunel's original route via Bath, but the up train (from Bristol) climbed the 1 in 75 of Ashley Hill Bank and then continued climbing up the 1 in 300 to Badminton before rejoining the down route a Wootton Bassett. This meant that the up train had a slightly shorter route of 117.6 miles (compared to 118.3 miles in the down direction via Bath), but with the stiff climb was probably the harder.
The train was scheduled to leave Paddington at 11.00am, and take 105 minutes for the non-stop run to Bristol Temple Meads, with the return leaving Bristol at 4.30pm with the same non-stop time. It was initially made up of 7 Collett coaches and hauled by a King class locomotive, at the time the top GWR passenger class. Later the Castle class steam locomotives and, from 1959, by Warship class diesel-hydraulic locomotives were used.
The service was suspended during World War 2, and it was not until 1954 the 105 minute schedule was again achieved. During this time The Bristolian became one of the few named trains to be scheduled for haulage by a gas turbine locomotive when, between April and May 1952 it was scheduled for haulage by 18100, the Metropolitan-Vickers experimental locomotive but otherwise the mid 1950s was a time of very fast running under steam haulage, of which the fastest recorded was hauled by 5051 Drysllwyn Castle in April 1954 taking 93 minutes 50 seconds with a top speed of 102 mph. The change to diesel traction saw Warship class D805 Benbow haul an 8-coach Bristolian on the opening day of the 1959 summer timetable in 93 minutes 48 seconds, and over that summer several similar times were recorded until civil engineering concerns placed a strict 90 mph limit on the line, and the 100 mph running required for such times was no longer possible.
By 1966 Western diesels had taken over from the Warships, and although not officially advertised as The Bristolian the train, now sometimes having 12 coaches, was still achieving the 105 minute schedule even with a stop at Bath included (the up route having been changed in 1961). In 1971 the route as again altered, this time both the up and down trains were routed via Badminton and called at the newly opened Bristol Parkway, and the load limited to 10 coaches giving an overall schedule of 110 minutes. The final version of the loco-hauled Bristolian came about in 1973 with the introduction of Air Conditioned Mark 2 coaches, and the replacement of the Westerns by Class 47 diesels.
On 17 April 2010, another commemorative train, to mark the GWR 175th anniversary, and also called the Bristolian, was hauled non-stop from London to Bristol, and later the same day back from Bristol to London, by Castle class locomotive no. 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. These trains were the first non-stop steam trains between these 2 cities for about 50 years. On its return journey, arrival at Paddington was about 45 minutes early, just under 1 hour and 50 minutes after leaving Bristol Temple Meads. The journey time was only a few minutes longer than the schedule for the non-stop Bristolian in the late 1950s, and was achieved notwithstanding the current speed limit for steam of 75 mph, which did not apply in the 1950s.
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