The Railway: First Great Western - Netflix

The Railway: First Great Western is a documentary series that follows the working lives of the staff of First Great Western, one of Britain's largest train operating companies. The series delves behind the scenes to capture the inside story of an industry that continues to grow, featuring a team of dedicated drivers, managers, ticket inspectors and technicians that connect the capital to the southwest.

The Railway: First Great Western - Netflix

Type: Documentary

Languages: English

Status: Ended

Runtime: 60 minutes

Premier: 2013-08-29

The Railway: First Great Western - Great Western Railway - Netflix

The Great Western Railway (GWR) was a British railway company that linked London with the south-west and west of England, the Midlands, and most of Wales. It was founded in 1833, received its enabling Act of Parliament on 31 August 1835 and ran its first trains in 1838. It was engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who chose a broad gauge of 7 ft (2,134 mm)—later slightly widened to 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm)—but, from 1854, a series of amalgamations saw it also operate 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard-gauge trains; the last broad-gauge services were operated in 1892. The GWR was the only company to keep its identity through the Railways Act 1921, which amalgamated it with the remaining independent railways within its territory, and it was finally merged at the end of 1947 when it was nationalised and became the Western Region of British Railways. The GWR was called by some “God's Wonderful Railway” and by others the “Great Way Round” but it was famed as the “Holiday Line”, taking many people to English and Bristol Channel resorts in the West Country as well as the far south-west of England such as Torquay in Devon, Minehead in Somerset, and Newquay and St Ives in Cornwall. The company's locomotives, many of which were built in the company's workshops at Swindon, were painted a Brunswick green colour while, for most of its existence, it used a two-tone “chocolate and cream” livery for its passenger coaches. Goods wagons were painted red but this was later changed to mid-grey. Great Western trains included long-distance express services such as the Flying Dutchman, the Cornish Riviera Express and the Cheltenham Spa Express. It also operated many suburban and rural services, some operated by steam railmotors or autotrains. The company pioneered the use of larger, more economic goods wagons than were usual in Britain. It operated a network of road motor (bus) routes, was a part of the Railway Air Services, and owned ships, docks and hotels.

The Railway: First Great Western - Brunel's 7-foot gauge and the "gauge war" - Netflix

Brunel had devised a 7 ft (2,134 mm) track gauge for his railways in 1835. He later added 1⁄4 inch (6.4 mm), probably to reduce friction of the wheel sets in curves. This became the 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge. Either gauge may be referred to as “Brunel's” gauge. In 1844, the broad-gauge Bristol and Gloucester Railway had opened, but Gloucester was already served by the 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge lines of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway. This resulted in a break of gauge that forced all passengers and goods to change trains if travelling between the south-west and the North. This was the beginning of the “gauge war” and led to the appointment by Parliament of a Gauge Commission, which reported in 1846 in favour of standard gauge so the 7-foot gauge was proscribed by law (Regulating the Gauge of Railways Act) except for the south-west of England and Wales where connected to the GWR network. Other railways in Britain were to use standard gauge. In 1846 the Bristol and Gloucester was bought by the Midland Railway and it was converted to standard gauge in 1854, which brought mixed-gauge track to Temple Meads station – this had three rails to allow trains to run on either broad or standard gauge. The GWR extended into the West Midlands in competition with the Midland and the London and North Western Railway. Birmingham was reached through Oxford in 1852 and Wolverhampton in 1854. This was the furthest north that the broad gauge reached. In the same year the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway and the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway both amalgamated with the GWR, but these lines were standard gauge, and the GWR's own line north of Oxford had been built with mixed gauge. This mixed gauge was extended southwards from Oxford to Basingstoke at the end of 1856 and so allowed through goods traffic from the north of England to the south coast (via the London and South Western Railway – LSWR) without transshipment.

The line to Basingstoke had originally been built by the Berks and Hants Railway as a broad-gauge route in an attempt to keep the standard gauge of the LSWR out of Great Western territory but, in 1857, the GWR and LSWR opened a shared line to Weymouth on the south coast, the GWR route being via Chippenham and a route initially started by the Wilts, Somerset and Weymouth Railway. Further west, the LSWR took over the broad-gauge Exeter and Crediton Railway and North Devon Railway, also the standard-gauge Bodmin and Wadebridge Railway. It was several years before these remote lines were connected with the parent LSWR system and any through traffic to them was handled by the GWR and its associated companies. By now the gauge war was lost and mixed gauge was brought to Paddington in 1861, allowing through passenger trains from London to Chester. The broad-gauge South Wales Railway amalgamated with the GWR in 1862, as did the West Midland Railway, which brought with it the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway, a line that had been conceived as another broad-gauge route to the Midlands but which had been built as standard gauge after several battles, both political and physical. On 1 April 1869, the broad gauge was taken out of use between Oxford and Wolverhampton and from Reading to Basingstoke. In August, the line from Grange Court to Hereford was converted from broad to standard and the whole of the line from Swindon through Gloucester to South Wales was similarly treated in May 1872. In 1874, the mixed gauge was extended along the main line to Chippenham and the line from there to Weymouth was narrowed. The following year saw mixed gauge laid through the Box Tunnel, with the broad gauge now retained only for through services beyond Bristol and on a few branch lines. The Bristol and Exeter Railway amalgamated with the GWR on 1 January 1876. It had already made a start on mixing the gauge on its line, a task completed through to Exeter on 1 March 1876 by the GWR. The station here had been shared with the LSWR since 1862. This rival company had continued to push westwards over its Exeter and Crediton line and arrived in Plymouth later in 1876, which spurred the South Devon Railway to also amalgamate with the Great Western. The Cornwall Railway remained a nominally independent line until 1889, although the GWR held a large number of shares in the company. One final new broad-gauge route was opened on 1 June 1877, the St Ives branch in west Cornwall, although there was also a small extension at Sutton Harbour in Plymouth in 1879. Part of a mixed gauge point remains at Sutton Harbour, one of the few examples of broad gauge trackwork remaining in situ anywhere. Once the GWR was in control of the whole line from London to Penzance, it set about converting the remaining broad-gauge tracks. The last broad-gauge service left Paddington station on Friday, 20 May 1892; the following Monday, trains from Penzance were operated by standard-gauge locomotives.

The Railway: First Great Western - References - Netflix