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Sunday, 19 December 2010

Brunel's Broad Gauge

An excellent jigsaw puzzle depicting an early broad gauge locomotive is the 500-piece example from Country House Treasures, produced for the Science Museum, London. It is titled Iron Duke at Chippenham c1850 and is reproduced from a 1984 watercolour, by artist Sean Bolan.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the original Great Western Railway to the broad gauge of 7ft 1/4ins after convincing his board of directors that the wider gauge would offer greater speed, efficiency, stability and safety. The GWR was opened in stages from 1838, the Chippenham to Bath stage, in 1841. Iron Duke was the first member of a class of 29 remarkable locomotives all of 4-2-2 wheel formation. Designed by Daniel Gooch they were the epitome of power and speed on the GWR for many years. The smaller gauge, 4ft 8 1/2ins, as adopted by George Stephenson, eventually proved to be more popular than the broader gauge. With over eight times the mileage, the smaller gauge became standard from 1845, as a result of a Royal Commission investigation. The Gauge Act was passed by Parliament a year later. The GWR ran dual gauge in places for a time but the last broad gauge track was lifted in 1892.