For those who wish to understand how the Great Western Railway company specified, designed and constructed its Permanent Way then the task is much easier than for many other pre-grouping and pre-nationalisation companies. Devotees of Swindon have an easy “road” to enlightenment for they are blessed with not one..  not two..  not even three primary sources..  there are at least four sources of official documentation about GWR Permanent Way and associated Switch and Crossing practices from circa 1880 to the end of the Bullhead era.  As if that is not enough there is a decent book on the subject by one “who was there”… in the PW offices of BR (WR) and who had sufficient interest to put the experiences of his work into print.

The primary sources for information on the Permanent Way of the Great Western Railway company:-

  • Some Notes on Permanent Way, a paper read by Henry Harvie to the GWR Junior Engineering Society on 18th March 1898, (society pamphlet no. 17);
  • GWR Standard Permanent Way Practice, a paper read by F.T.Bowler to the Permanent Way Institute (South Wales Section) on 23rd June and 27th October 1923;
  • Permanent Way Fittings and their manufacture, a paper read by G.E.Hobbs to the GWR Swindon Engineering Society on 5th February 1929, (society pamphlet no. 169);
  • Permanent Way Notes: various, Chief Engineer’s Office, Paddington, 1930s through to 1950s.

Secondary sources include:-

  • GWR Permanent Way, 1838-1938, Len Tavender and M.C.James, HMRS Journal Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1965;
  • GWR Sleeper Spacings, David Smith, Great Western Study Group Newsletter no.77 June 2002.

And the book?  (which I recommend without reservation and  which needs to be on the bookshelf of anyone who wishes to building track in the GWR style)

  • GWR Switch and Crossing Practice, David J Smith, published by the Great Western Study Group.

Now in case you are thinking…  how do I  find a copy of the Chief Engineer’s tables for PW and S&C fittings?…  there is a fairy Godmother for GWR modellers in the form of Keith Norgrove.  Keith has been able to copy a large number of the Permanent Way Notes and those copies are to be found on Keith’s website, here .   There are no excuses, these tables define how the GWR and BR(WR) designed the permanent way and constructed the track.  In addition, the PW Notes illustrate the various chairs, fittings, levers, stretchers and blocks which went into the track.

The Great Western Railway permanent way for Artillery Lane just about gets into the picture down on the right hand corner of the Artillery Lane plan … where there is a connection from the up line of the Metropolitan Inner Circle Extension into the GW Gun Street depot.   An almost insignificant piece of railway property, with one or two sidings, a catch point and a capacity of around 15 wagons per siding.  As the depot belongs to the GWR then the sidings and catch point follow the contemporary practice of the GWR whereas the connection into the depot, placed in a passenger running line, was installed by the Metropolitan Railway and reflects the practice of that company.  Gun Street depot has just one connection to the Inner Circle Extension and that is a trailing turnout in the up line of the ICE…  which means that goods wagons for Gun Street are dropped from / attached to “up” GWR goods services (the Metropolitan Railway defined “up” as being in the direction from Baker Street towards Kings Cross).  The connection from the depot to the up line presents an operational problem in that goods trains which have wagons for the depot have to cross the down ICE line, by means of a diamond crossing, and that requires some smart working on the part of the train crew, the guard and the signalman.

The opening date of the Gun Street depot, lost in the depths of dry and dusty minute books (which are yet to be moved to Porchester Road), remains to be determined… early photographs of the depot appear to show bullhead rail of 86 lbs. per yard and that is consistent with a date of 1881.  Co-incidentally, 1881 is the date which is to be found on the keystone of the entrance gate to the depot yard.  Those early photographs provide a view of GWR track which is rather spindly in appearance for the 86 lbs section was neither as tall nor as thick (in the foot) as later sections.  Thankfully, there is one photograph of a siding which has a more robust appearance and that may be of either 92 lbs or 95 lbs rail section.

Like much of the Metropolitan Railway Main Line the sidings of Gun Street depot are in a dark and dreary location where the sun never shines – the depot suffers from damp and smoky conditions for most of the time.   Corrosion of the rails is rapid in the moist, acidic, atmosphere and – with the heavy wear from continual shunting and engines slipping on damp rails – the GWR has had to renew the sidings at least once since the depot was opened.  In an attempt to increase the life of the track in the depot the GWR used heavier rails in the renewals and that heavier rail section meant replacement chairs (and that required new sleepers).  So the permanent way for Gun Street depot is to be based upon the PW practices which were contemporary with the 1890-1899 period.