John Speller's Web Pages London, Bristol and South Wales Direct Railway

John Speller's Web Pages - GWR Narrow Gauge

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During the Railway Mania as early as 1845 an Act was obtained for a London, Bristol and South Wales Direct Railway, leaving the GWR main line at Wootton Bassett and joining the Bristol & Gloucester Railway at Westerleigh, together with a line continuing via a bridge across the Severn projected by the Bristol & Liverpool Junction Railway. This would have followed a route roughly similar to the present main line, but nothing came of the proposal for half a century.

In the autumn of 1895 the directors of the Great Western Railway took an important step towards meeting long-standing complaints from South Wales which led to the passing of an Act of 7 August 1896 for a line 31 miles long from Wootton Bassett through Badminton including two junctions with the Severn Tunnel line at Patchway and Filton. The line passed through the Duke of Beaufort's estate and the Act stipulated that any passenger train might be stopped at the Duke's request so that he might use it. His coat of arms was displayed at the station. The legal ramifications of this may have been responsible to Badminton station remaining open in the 1960s for a while after the remainder of the stations on the line had closed. On 1 January 1903, the first section from Wooton Bassett to Badminton opened for goods traffic. On 1 May 1903 the remainder of the line to Patchway with the loop to Filton opened for goods traffic, and on 1 July 1903 the whole line opened for passenger traffic.

The new line was 11 miles shorter than the old one. The major engineering works were Chipping Sodbury Tunnel (2 miles 924 yards), Alderton Tunnel (528 yards) and four viaducts including one at Somerford. In contrast with Brunel's original line between Swindon and Bristol with its grade of 1:100 through Box Tunnel, the London, Bristol and South Wales Direct Railway had no grades greater than 1:300, and except at junctions there were no curves of less than 1 mile radius, making for the fastest stretch of line on the Great Western Railway.

The stations on the line were from east to west at Wootton Bassett, where a new station replaced the the original Brunel station of 1841, and at Brinkworth, Little Somerford, Hullavington, Badminton, Chipping Sodbury and Coalpit Heath. Near Stoke Gifford there junction with lines to Patchway and South Wales and another to Filton Junction and Bristol Temple Meads. At Stoke Gifford there was a large goods yard responsible for the interchange of traffic between London, South Wales and the West of England. A junction was made near Yate with the Midland Railway's Bristol to Birmingham line, resulting in an improved route for GWR trains to Gloucester and Birmingham. The Corsham to Malmesbury branch passed under the Wootton Bassett to Patchway line at Little Somerford; in 1933 a link was made with the Malmesbury branch at Little Somerford and the Dauntsey to Little Somerford section was closed.

The stations between Stoke Gifford and Wootten Bassett were closed on 3 April 1961 except for Badminton, which closed to goods on 1 November 1966 and passengers on 3 June 1968. Wootton Bassett was also on the original main line and thus remained open until 4 January 1965 when local passenger services between Swindon and Chippenham were withdrawn. It closed to goods except coal traffic 19 May 1964, and to coal traffic on 4 October 1965. There is some talk in the early twenty-first century of reopening it. Chipping Sodbury was the busiest station on the line with almost as much traffic as all the other stations combined.

A new main-line atation, Bristol Parkway, was opened next to the goods yard at Stoke Gifford on 1 May 1972. This station provides an interchange between the London, South Wales, West of England and Birmingham lines, and has proved enormously successful. An additional platform was added on 9 May 2007. A video of Peppercorn 4-6-2 "Tornado" at Bristol Parkway in garter blue livery on 25 November 2012 may be seen here. A video of No. 4965 "Rood Ashton Hall" and No. S4936 "Kinlet Hall" storming through Bristol Parkway on 23 March 2013 may be seen here. The London, Bristol & South Wales Direct Railway is currently undergoing electrification under the South Wales Electrification Plan of 2010-2017.

Map of the London, Bristol & South Wales Direct Railway
Badminton station in a postcard view shortly after opening. Note some of the goods wagons still painted in the old red Great Western goods livery
Wootton Bassett station in a postcard view of around 1905
Non-stop Newport to Paddington express just east of the Severn Tunnel behind "Castle" Class 4-6-0 No. 7001, "Sir James Milne," on 5 June 1961. Image copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
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