John Speller's Web Pages The Atmospheric Railway (SDR)

John Speller's Web Pages - GWR Broad Gauge - SDR
The Atmospheric Railway
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Top left is a Victorian portrayal of an atmospheric train on the South Devon Railway. The train was propelled by the pressure of the atmosphere pushing against a piston in the tube, the other side of which was evacuated remotely by a stationary engine in the pumping station. At its best, the system could propel at light train at 70 m.p.h. in the absence of both noise and smoke.

Top right is a photograph of the atmospheric pumping station at Exeter. Exeter St. Davids Station is visible in the background on the right. The Italianate design is typical of Brunel's pumping stations.

The lower illustration from Samuda's A Treatise on the Adaptation of Atmospheric Pressure to the Purposes of Locomotion on Railways shows the working of the mechanism to close the leather flap on an atmospheric pipe similar to those used on the South Devon Railway. Difficulty was experienced with the leather drying out and failing to seal. Working with the Atmospheric Superintendent, James Pearson, Brunel's assistant William Froude solved the problem by fitting vulcanized rubber instead of leather, but the Directors had had enough and decided to scrap the whole scheme before the modification had a chance to work.
Atmospheric pumping station at Exeter, with St. David's Station in the distance on the right
The atmospheric railway at Dawlish. Watercolor by Nicholas Condy, 1848
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