|Great Western Main Line|
|Type||Commuter rail, Higher-speed rail|
|Opened||30 June 1841 (complete line)|
|Line length||118 miles 19 chains (190.28 km)|
|Number of tracks||Four (London to Didcot),|
two (Didcot to Bristol)
|Track gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Old gauge||7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm)|
|Electrification||25 kV 50 hz AC OLE (London to Chippenham)|
|Operating speed||125 mph (201 km/h) maximum|
|Signalling||AWS, TPWS, ATP|
Great Western Main Line
The Great Western Main Line (GWML) is a main line railway in England that runs westwards from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads. It connects to other main lines such as those from Reading to Penzance and Swindon to Swansea. Opened in 1841, it was the original route of the first Great Western Railway which was merged into the Western Region of British Railways in 1948. It is now a part of the national rail system managed by Network Rail with the majority of passenger services provided by the current Great Western Railway franchise.
The line is electrified between London Paddington and Royal Wootton Bassett. Work to complete electrification all the way to Bristol was begun in 2011, but in 2016 the UK government deferred electrification of the section through Bath from Royal Wootton Bassett to Bristol, with no date set for completion, because costs had tripled.
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 1841. The final section, between Chippenham and Bath, was opened on completion of the Box Tunnel in June 1841.
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+1⁄2 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 (October 1861), Reading to Didcot (December 1856), Didcot to Swindon (February 1872), Swindon to Thingley Junction, Chippenham (June 1874), Thingley Junction to Bathampton (March 1875), Bathampton to Bristol (June 1874), Bristol station area (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 bit wider than usual, or where tracks are ten feet apart instead of the usual six.
The original dual tracks were widened to four in places, mainly in the east half, between 1877 and 1899: Paddington to Southall (October 1877), Southall to West Drayton (November 1878), West Drayton to Slough (June 1879), Slough to east side of Maidenhead Bridge (September 1884), Maidenhead Bridge to Reading (June 1893), Reading station (1899), Reading to Pangbourne (July 1893), Pangbourne to Cholsey and Moulsford (June 1894), Cholsey and Moulsford to Didcot (December 1892); also short sections between Didcot and Swindon, and at Bristol.
Following the Slough rail accident of 1900, in which 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.
Further widenings of the line took place between 1903 and 1910 and more widening work took place between 1931 and 1932.
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. The companies 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 (BR) in 1948.[relevant?]
In 1977, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommended considering electrification of more of Britain's rail network, and by 1979 BR presented a range of options that included electrifying the line from Paddington to Swansea by 2000. 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 had been raised, so that 86% of the line could be used at 90 mph (140 km/h).
Partial electrification by 2019 allowed replacement of InterCity 125 and Class 180 sets by new Hitachi Super Express high speed trains – the Class 800s and Class 802s. It also allowed the introduction of Class 387 EMUs by GWR on shorter-distance services.
The route of the GWML includes dozens of listed buildings and structures, including tunnel portals, bridges and viaducts, stations, and associated hotels. Part of the route passes through and contributes to the Georgian Architecture of the City of Bath World Heritage Site; the path through Sydney Gardens has been described as a "piece of deliberate railway theatre by Brunel without parallel". Grade I listed structures on the line include London Paddington, Wharncliffe Viaduct, the 1839 Tudor gothic River Avon Bridge in Bristol, and Bristol Temple Meads station.
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; Pangbourne; 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 Maidenhead Railway Bridge. Between Chippenham and Bath the line passes through Box Tunnel, and then follows the valley of the River Avon.
A junction west of Swindon allows trains to reach Bristol by an alternative route along the South Wales Main Line. Other diversionary routes exist between Chippenham and Bath via the Wessex Main Line, although this involves a reversal at Bradford Junction; and from Reading to Bath via the Berks and Hants Line.
Most services are provided by Great Western Railway (GWR). The stations served by trains between London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads are Reading, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Chippenham, and Bath Spa. Some trains between London and Bristol do not call at Didcot Parkway.
The Elizabeth line runs on the Great Western Main Line between London and Reading.
CrossCountry operate trains between Reading and Oxford, using the Great Western Main Line as far as Didcot.
Great Western Railway also operate a train between London Paddington – Cardiff Central every 30 minutes, with hourly extensions to Swansea. At Swansea/Cardiff there is a connecting Transport for Wales boat train to/from Fishguard Harbour 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. Daytime and nocturnal journeys are offered in both directions daily (including Sundays).
Between London and Didcot there are four tracks, two for each direction. The main lines are mostly used by the faster trains and are on the south side of the route. The relief lines on the north side are used for slower services and those that call at all stations, as only London Paddington, Slough, Maidenhead, Twyford, Reading and Didcot Parkway stations have platforms on the main lines (although a few others have main line platforms that can be used in an emergency). Between Didcot and Royal Wootton Bassett, a series of passing loops allow fast trains to overtake slower ones. This section is 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 summit of the line is at Swindon, and falls away in each direction: Swindon is 270 feet (82 m) above Paddington, and 292 feet (89 m) above Bristol Temple Meads. The maximum gradient between Paddington and Didcot is 1 in 1320 (0.75 ‰ or 0.075%); between Didcot and Swindon it is 1 in 660 (1.5 ‰ or 0.15%) but west of Swindon, gradients as steep as 1 in 100 (10 ‰ or 1%) are found in places, such as Box Tunnel and to the east of Dauntsey.
The line is electrified between Paddington and Langley Burrell (just east of Chippenham) using 25 kV AC overhead supply lines; the Reading to Taunton line (as far as Newbury) and the South Wales Main Line (as far as Cardiff Central) are also electrified.
The line speed is 125 mph (201 km/h). The relief lines from Paddington to Didcot are limited to 90 mph (140 km/h) as far as Reading, and then 100 mph (160 km/h) to Didcot. Lower restrictions apply at various locations. The line is one of two Network Rail-owned lines equipped with the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, the other being the Chiltern Main Line.
Tunnels, viaducts and major bridges
Major civil engineering structures on the Great Western Main Line include the following.
|Railway structure||Length||Distance from London Paddington||Location|
|Subway Tunnel (LU)||117 yards (107 m)||0 miles 67 chains (1.3 km) – 0 miles 73 chains (1.5 km)||West of Royal Oak|
|Spring Bridge Road Car Park Tunnel||121 yards (111 m)||5 miles 70 chains (9.5 km) – 5 miles 76 chains (9.6 km)||West of Ealing Broadway|
|Hanwell Viaduct||44 yards (40 m)||7 miles 35 chains (12.0 km) – 7 miles 38 chains (12.0 km)||West of Hanwell|
|Wharncliffe Viaduct||297 yards (272 m)||7 miles 43 chains (12.1 km) – 7 miles 56 chains (12.4 km)|
|Hanwell Bridge||4 chains (80 m)||8 miles 00 chains (12.9 km) – 8 miles 04 chains (13.0 km)|
|Maidenhead Viaduct (River Thames)||237 yards (217 m)||23 miles 21 chains (37.4 km) – 23 miles 32 chains (37.7 km)||East of Maidenhead|
|Seven Arch Viaduct||68 yards (62 m)||31 miles 19 chains (50.3 km) – 31 miles 22 chains (50.3 km)||West of Twyford|
|River Loddon Viaduct||70 yards (64 m)||31 miles 43 chains (50.8 km) – 31 miles 46 chains (50.8 km)|
|Kennet Bridge (Kennet & Avon Canal)||4 chains (80 m)||34 miles 77 chains (56.3 km) – 35 miles 01 chain (56.3 km)||East of Reading|
|Gatehampton Viaduct (River Thames)||99 yards (91 m)||44 miles 00 chains (70.8 km) – 44 miles 05 chains (70.9 km)||East of Goring & Streatley|
|Moulsford Viaduct (River Thames)||147 yards (134 m)||47 miles 27 chains (76.2 km) – 47 miles 34 chains (76.3 km)||East of Cholsey|
|River Avon Viaduct||72 yards (66 m)||90 miles 77 chains (146.4 km) – 91 miles 00 chains (146.5 km)||East of Chippenham|
|Chippenham viaduct||90 yards (82 m)||94 miles 08 chains (151.4 km) – 94 miles 13 chains (151.5 km)||West of Chippenham|
|Box Tunnel||1 mile 1,452 yards (2.937 km)||99 miles 12 chains (159.6 km) – 100 miles 78 chains (162.5 km)||Between Chippenham and Bath Spa|
|Middle Hill Tunnel||198 yards (181 m)||101 miles 39 chains (163.3 km) – 101 miles 48 chains (163.5 km)|
|Sydney Gardens East Tunnel||77 yards (70 m)||106 miles 24 chains (171.1 km) – 106 miles 28 chains (171.2 km)||East of Bath Spa|
|Sydney Gardens West Tunnel||99 yards (91 m)||106 miles 29 chains (171.2 km) – 106 miles 33 chains (171.3 km)|
|Dolemeads Viaduct||355 yards (325 m)||106 miles 49 chains (171.6 km) – 106 miles 60 chains (171.8 km)|
|Arches and St James Viaduct||600 yards (550 m)||106 miles 68 chains (172.0 km) – 107 miles 20 chains (172.6 km)||West of Bath Spa|
|Twerton Viaduct||638 yards (583 m)||108 miles 29 chains (174.4 km) – 108 miles 58 chains (175.0 km)||Between Oldfield Park and Keynsham|
|Twerton Short Tunnel||45 yards (41 m)||108 miles 70 chains (175.2 km) – 108 miles 72 chains (175.3 km)|
|Twerton Long Tunnel||264 yards (241 m)||109 miles 03 chains (175.5 km) – 109 miles 15 chains (175.7 km)|
|Saltford Tunnel||176 yards (161 m)||111 miles 57 chains (179.8 km) – 111 miles 65 chains (179.9 km)|
|St Annes Park Arches Viaduct||4 chains (80 m)||115 miles 25 chains (185.6 km) – 115 miles 29 chains (185.7 km)||Between Keynsham|
|St Annes Park No.3 Tunnel (or Foxes Wood Tunnel)||1,017 yards (930 m)||115 miles 58 chains (186.2 km) – 116 miles 25 chains (187.2 km)|
|St Annes Park or (Bristol) No.2 Tunnel||154 yards (141 m)||116 miles 41 chains (187.5 km) – 116 miles 48 chains (187.6 km)|
|Main River Viaduct (River Avon)||108 yards (99 m)||c. 117 miles 24 chains (188.8 km)|
|Main Down Viaduct (River Avon)||141 yards (129 m)||117 miles 21 chains (188.7 km) – 117 miles 27 chains (188.8 km)|
|The Feeder||117 miles 51 chains (189.3 km)|
|Floating Harbour||3 chains (60 m)||118 miles 16 chains (190.2 km) – 118 miles 19 chains (190.3 km)|
Line-side monitoring equipment
|Name & Type||Line||Location (distance from Paddington)|
|Maidenhead HABD||Up Relief||24 miles 03 chains (38.7 km)|
|Up Main||24 miles 10 chains (38.8 km)|
|Waltham WILD||Up Relief, Down Relief, Up Main, Down Main||26 miles 21 chains (42.3 km)|
|Twyford HABD||Down Relief, Down Main||32 miles 02 chains (51.5 km)|
|Basildon HABD||Up Relief, Down Relief, Up Main
(Down Main disconnected December 2016)
|43 miles 42 chains (70.0 km)|
|Cholsey WILD||Up Relief, Down Relief, Up Main, Down Main||49 miles 05 chains (79.0 km)|
|Wantage Road HABD||Up Main||59 miles 57 chains (96.1 km)|
|Bourton HABD||Down Main||72 miles 20 chains (116.3 km)|
|Studley HABD||Up Main||81 miles 40 chains (131.2 km)|
|Twerton HABD||Down Main||108 miles 60 chains (175.0 km)|
Since 2011, the Great Western has been undergoing a £5 billion modernisation by Network Rail.
The eastern section from Paddington to Hayes & Harlington was electrified in 1998. The Crossrail project covered electrification of the line from Airport Junction to Maidenhead and, following a number of announcements and delays, the government announced in March 2011 that it would electrify the line as far as Bristol Temple Meads.
Following delays to the work and a large increase in costs, the Conservative government announced in July 2017 that, for the time being, electrification would only be completed as far as Thingley Junction, 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Chippenham. Electrification of other lines, including Bristol Parkway to Temple Meads and Didcot to Oxford, was also postponed indefinitely. The government argued that bi-mode trains would fill in the gaps pending completion of electrification, although the Class 800 trains are slower in diesel mode than under electric power. Electrification as far as Didcot Parkway was completed in December 2017, and to Thingley Junction in December 2019.
This section needs to be updated.(March 2023)
Network Rail plans to install European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) in-cab signalling on the Great Western line; this is a pre-requisite for the Super Express trains to run at 140 mph (225 km/h). Some or all of the resignalling work will be undertaken during the electrification work.
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 free up some surface-level capacity at Paddington.
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 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.
Access to Heathrow Airport from the west remains an aspiration and the 2009 Heathrow Airtrack scheme, abandoned in 2011, proposed a route south of the Great Western Main Line to link the airport with Reading. Plans for electrification of the line will make it easier to access Heathrow from Reading, since lack of electrification between Reading station and Airport Junction (near West Drayton station) was a limiting factor. Plans under consideration in 2014 included new tunnels between Heathrow and Langley.
Calls for station reopenings
There have also been calls to reopen the former Wantage Road station. Oxfordshire County Council included a proposal for a new station to serve Wantage and Grove in their 2015–2031 local transport plan.
- Slough rail accident – 16 June 1900 – 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. Five passengers were killed and 35 seriously injured.
- Ealing rail crash – 19 December 1973 – A train from Paddington to Oxford derailed after a loose battery box cover on the Class 52 "Western" locomotive hauling the train struck lineside equipment, causing a set of points to move under the train. Ten passengers were killed and 94 injured.
- Southall rail crash – 19 September 1997 – An InterCity 125 service from Swansea to Paddington, operated by Great Western Trains, failed to stop at a red signal and collided with a freight train entering Southall goods yard. Seven people were killed and 139 were injured. The incident severely damaged public confidence in the safety of the rail system. It was found that the train's automatic warning system (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 – 5 October 1999 – A Thames Trains service from Paddington to Bedwyn passed a signal at danger at the gantry protecting a main set of (crossover) points between the one-way and bi-directionally used lines. The train ran the wrong way down the line and was hit head-on by a First Great Western HST service from Cheltenham Spa to Paddington at a closing speed of approximately 130 mph (210 km/h). 31 people died, including both drivers, with more than 520 people injured. Thames Trains was fined £2 million for violations of health and safety law. Railtrack 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.
|Class||Image||Type||Top speed||Cars per set||Number||Operator||Routes||Built|
|Class 158||Diesel Multiple Unit||90||145||2||22||Great Western Railway||
|Class 165||Diesel Multiple Unit||90||145||2||20||Great Western Railway||
|Class 166||Diesel Multiple Unit||90||145||3||21||Great Western Railway||1992-93|
|Class 345||Electric Multiple Unit||90||145||9||70||Elizabeth line||London Paddington to Heathrow Terminal 4 and Reading||2015-19|
|Class 387||Electric Multiple Unit||110||177||4||36||Great Western Railway||London Paddington to Didcot Parkway
London Paddington and Reading to Newbury
High speed trains
|Class||Image||Type||Top speed||Cars per set||Number||Operator||Routes||Built|
|Class 387||Electric Multiple Unit||110||177||4||12||Heathrow Express||London Paddington to Heathrow Terminal 5||2016-17|
|Class 800||Bi-Mode Multiple Unit||140||225||5||36||Great Western Railway||London Paddington to:
|Class 802||Bi-Mode Multiple Unit||140||225||5||22||Great Western Railway||London Paddington to:
|Class 57||Diesel locomotive||95||152||4||Great Western Railway||London Paddington to Penzance (The Night Riviera)||1998-2004|
|Mark 3||Passenger coach||125||200||18||1975-88|
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