A short history of the Britain’s 7 foot gauge railways, 1835 – 1892. © Richard J. Marshall 2006
In 1835, in the early days of railway construction, the Great Western Railway was born. The original main line ran between London and Bristol, a distance of 117 miles (187 kms), which was opened throughout in June 1841. What made the Great Western Railway unusual was the choice of gauge. Instead of building the railway to what became the British standard gauge of 4ft 8½ins, the track was laid to a gauge of 7ft 0¼ins (“broad gauge”).
Over the following 25 years, many of the railways connecting to the Great Western Railway built their lines with broad gauge track, resulting in a network of broad gauge railways extending from London to Bristol, Wolverhampton, South Wales, Weymouth, and westward through the counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall to reach Penzance. At its peak in 1868, broad gauge railways covered 1,070 miles (1,712 kms). Because of the wider gauge, trains were more stable and capable of higher speeds. However, the inconvenience of having to transship goods between wagons at junctions where there was a change of gauge resulted in pressure for all British railways to adopt the “standard gauge”. Consequently lines were gradually converted and, on Friday 20 May 1892, the last broad gauge trains ran between London and Penzance and a chapter of history closed.
Maps and Fact-Sheets
The fact-sheets record the dates lines were opened, or were converted to/from broad gauge, as well as a summary of the number and type of broad gauge locomotives in service.
- Early Locomotives
- Early Stations
- The First Standard Locomotives
- Bristol & Exeter Railway (1)
- Gooch Locomotives
- The Broad Gauge in South Wales
- The Broad Gauge to Birmingham
- London Paddington Station
- The South Devon Railway
- Passenger Rolling Stock
- The Broad Gauge in Cornwall
- Gauge Conversion in South Wales and the Midlands
- Accidents on the Broad Gauge
- Bristol & Exeter Railway (2)
- Armstrong & Dean Locomotives
- Champions of the Broad Gauge
- Train Services
- Broad Gauge in Retrospect
- The End of the Broad Gauge