Railway engineers

George Stephenson

  • Built his first train, the Blucher, at Killingworth Colliery and demonstrated that a train could run along an iron track at six miles an hour without a stationary engine.
  • Stephenson used a fixed gauge (width of the track) of 4 feet, 8.5 inches when designing the Stockton to Darlington Railway, which is the world's standard gauge and still used in Britain today.
  • The Stockton to Darlington Railway (1825) was a great commercial success and Stephenson became famous. He was asked to design the Liverpool to Manchester Railway line.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

A portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a pioneering railway engineer who designed steam trains, oversaw the construction of new railway tracks and built bridges and tunnels along his railway routes.

  • Brunel became the chief engineer of the Great Western Railway (GWR) in 1833. The railway linked the towns of London and Bristol and was often referred to as God's Wonderful Railway because the route was so smooth.
  • The GWR line was so successful that it was later extended to connect to Plymouth and Cornwall. Brunel built the Tamar Bridge and Box Tunnel to overcome major obstacles on the route.
  • One of the reasons why Brunel's railway routes and tracks were so smooth is because, unlike George Stephenson, he used a gauge of 7 feet, 3 inches. Unfortunately, 92 per cent of the railway tracks in Britain had already been built at Stephenson's gauge of 4 feet 8.5 inches. This led to the Gauge Act being passed in 1846, which stated that all train tracks had to be built to George Stephenson's gauge width, making it easier for trains to run on all tracks across the country.