Birmingham and Gloucester Railway

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Birmingham and Gloucester Railway
Birm bris rly.jpg
Sketchmap of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway and its relationship to other lines
England loco Birmingham & Glos'ter Railway.jpg
American-built, "ENGLAND" locomotive, ca 1840
Dates of operation 1841–1845
Successor Birmingham and Bristol Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge

The Birmingham and Gloucester Railway is a railway route linking Birmingham to Gloucester in England.

It is one of the world's oldest main line railways and includes the famous Lickey Incline, a 2-mile (3.2 km) dead-straight stretch of track running up the 1-in-37 (2.7%) gradient of the Lickey Ridge. The line was built to link the factories of Birmingham to Bristol and its docks, as well as to operate passenger services.


The idea for a line had been mooted during the construction of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. There was already a horse-drawn coal railway between Bristol and Gloucestershire, however a line running the whole distance to Birmingham was suggested. At that time, the canal journey from Birmingham to Bristol took almost a week, and the road journey, which due to expense and road quality was only really suitable for passengers, took the best part of four days.

Several surveys were completed in the ten years after 1824. Brunel in 1832 surveyed a line well to the east of its present track, but due to lack of finance the scheme was suspended and he withdrew. The line, as it is now, was surveyed by Captain W S Moorsom. All observers recognised the challenge that the Lickey Ridge posed to the construction of the railway. Other lines, such as the C&HPR had previously been built up steeper inclines, worked by stationary steam engines or by gravity, however the Birmingham and Gloucester was a mechanised commercial railway, and was intended to be worked by steam locomotives. Both Stephenson and Brunel said that a general purpose steam locomotive could not work such a gradient.

Due to the Lickey problem, many investors remained sceptical and withheld funds; certain landowners asked excessive prices for land needed to construct the railway. In addition, the people of Bromsgrove protested about the proximity of the 'iron beast' to the town. Eventually it was decided that the incline could be worked by a system of ' banking engines'. Deals were struck with recalcitrant landlords and Bromsgrove station was built almost two miles outside the town, in Aston Fields. The line was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1836, just eleven years after the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.


The line was completed between Cheltenham and Bromsgrove on 24 June 1840. In 1841 it had reached as far as Camp Hill where it joined the London and Birmingham Railway to the latter's Curzon Street terminus in Birmingham.

Intermediate stations were at Cheltenham, Ashchurch, Spetchley, Droitwich and Bromsgrove, with halts at Bredon, Eckington, and Defford. At its southern end, it joined the Cheltenham and Great Western Union Railway at Cheltenham to run on mixed gauge tracks into Gloucester, the first ever "joint line".

The line was essentially straight along its length, the average curve being 80 chains (5,280 ft; 1,609 m) radius. The ground was mainly marl and clay. Apart from the Lickey Incline, the maximum gradients were 1-in-300 (0.3%). Of the Lickey, Whishaw writes in 1840: "If this is satisfactorily effected, it will throw a new and useful light on the laying out of railways, and will save a vast original outlay in future works. We have long considered that the present system of making the 16 feet gradient the minimum, is far from desirable." [1]

There was only one tunnel, that at Gravelly Hill, which was a quarter mile in length, lined in brick with no invert. The largest bridge was over the Avon at Eckington, Worcestershire with three cast-iron segmental arches supported on two lines of iron columns.

The rails were very similar to today's flat-bottomed stock, which has become known as Vignoles rail, and weighed 56 lb/yd (27.8 kg/m) The line was unusual for the day in not using any stone blocks. Part of the way, longitudinal sleepers were used, and part of the way, cross sleepers.

Vignoles rail as used for the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway in 1840

The Act of Parliament gave the Birmingham and Gloucester the right to use any future London and Birmingham terminus in Birmingham, which meant that the later Midland Railway had the right to share Birmingham New Street Station when it was built by the LNWR. This prompted the Midland to buy the Birmingham West Suburban Railway, which had a junction with the Birmingham and Gloucester at Kings Norton from 1876.

Notwithstanding the Bromsgrove people's reservations, the railway's maintenance shops were built there around 1841 providing a welcome change of employment for the town's nail makers.

The original Birmingham and Gloucester company merged with the Bristol and Gloucester Railway in 1845 to form the short-lived Birmingham and Bristol Railway, which in turn became a part of the Midland Railway in 1846.


View southward of Bredon railway station towards Cheltenham in 1960.
Down stopping train near Abbots Wood Junction in 1950

The line remains part of one of the UK's 'mainline' railway routes (indeed, the UK's longest mainline service route) (see for example Cross Country Route), despite a series of changes in ownership. The Midland Railway later became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in the rationalisation of 1923. The LMS, along with the rest of the UK's mainline railways, became part of British Railways when it was nationalised in 1948 by the Labour government. In 1995, the line was sold to Railtrack as part of the privatisation by the Major government, and then partially returned to public ownership under Network Rail in 2003.

Today the line is served by Arriva CrossCountry (Deutsche Bahn) Voyager services from Aberdeen to Penzance and their Class 170 Nottingham to Cardiff Central service, together with the London Midland Hereford to Birmingham New Street Class 170 local passenger service. The line is also a major freight route, featuring in particular, a weekday rolled steel slab train from the North East, routed via Gloucester to South Wales, where the steel slab is further rolled and coiled, returning the following day, for finishing into various manufacturers sheet requirements. On the return journey, these freight trains, as all loaded freight trains on the route, require banking assistance on the infamous Lickey Incline, a service which is undertaken by the freight company EWS (now DB Cargo), with one of their dedicated pool of Class 66 locomotives, dutifully waiting on call at Bromsgrove.

Accidents and incidents[edit]



  1. ^ Whishaw; (1840)
  2. ^ Hewison (1983)


  • Hewison, Christian H. (1983). Locomotive Boiler Explosions. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0 7153 8305 1. 
  • Maggs, C (1986). The Birmingham Gloucester Line. Cheltenham: Line One Press. ISBN 0-907036-10-4. 
  • Whishaw, Francis (1842) [1840]. The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated (2nd ed.). London: John Weale (1840 publisher - Simpkin, Marshall & Co.). OCLC 36383414. 
  • Whishaw, Francis (1969) [1840]. The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland practically described and illustrated (3rd ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-4786-1. 

Further reading[edit]