Isambard discovers how the railway has shaped Swindon and surrounding area, helping it become an innovation hub.
The Great Western Railway (GWR) is celebrating the biggest investment in the network since Isambard Brunel by making a very special journey with his great, great, great grandson. Brunel’s relative, Isambard Thomas, has been retracing his forefather’s steps to learn more about his relative’s engineering talents. He has also been exploring the region’s business potential and meeting the local communities which rely on the railways. A professional cartographer and book designer, Isambard will be replotting the route based on his findings along the way.
15 September 2015 marks 180 years since Isambard Kingdom Brunel submitted his planned route and innovative design for the Great Western Railway, designed to connect Bristol to London. Nicknamed ‘Brunel’s billiard table’ because of its flat gradient, the route was designed to be the most efficient and most comfortable railway system in the world.
Today thousands of businesses in the South West make use of the line every day and Isambard’s journey will explore the diversity and range of firms which can be found along the route. It will take three days and started yesterday in Bristol and Bath, before going through Chippenham, Swindon, Didcot, Reading, Hayes & Harlington and finishing at London Paddington.
After spending 7 September in Bristol and Bath, Isambard started Tuesday 8 September at Box Tunnel in Corsham where he heard from Frank Dumbleton of the Great Western Railway Society about the challenges faced by Brunel when he plotted the original route, travelling only by horse and carriage.
He then continued to Deacons jewellers in Old Town, Swindon, a sixth generation watch and clock makers to learn more about how the railways had influenced the growth and development of the business. MD Richard Deacon said: “The Great Western Railway was fundamental to the creation of our family business, six generations ago. My ancestor, George Deacon recognised the importance of meticulous timekeeping to the railways to the extent that from early 1850s until 1893 we fulfilled the timing contract for the Great Western Railway.
“Looking ahead, the introduction of the new electric trains will be a real benefit for our business, allowing us to take advantage of quicker connections and more frequent services, helping to move Swindon towards becoming a city of the future.”
Isambard also spoke to representatives from the Swindon & Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership who explained how Swindon has become an innovation hub and how they hope to continue attracting businesses to relocate to Swindon.
Isambard Thomas was positive about his Walk the Line experience. He said: “GWR is clearly an important part of my family history and it’s extremely interesting and rewarding to see the impact that my ancestor – and the railway as a whole – has driven businesses to develop in the region.”
Ben Rule, Operations Director at GWR commented: “It’s been fantastic to welcome Isambard to Bath and to meet the businesses which we help connect to the wider world. The original Great Western Railway effectively connected local economies, with many emerging around stations. This commitment to businesses and the communities we serve will continue thanks to the £7.5bn investment that is being made across the Great Western network. This will mean newer trains, faster, more frequent services more seats for all our customers.”
Swindon will be seeing a range of improvements thanks to the new investment, most notably an increased frequency of trains to the capital. Customers in Swindon can also benefit from new and more comfortable rolling stock, three million additional seats a year and the recruitment of 100 additional customer-facing staff on long distance services.
The new franchise means customers from Swindon will see longer trains and more seats on both high speed services and local commuter routes. These improvements include:
New Super Express Trains, introduced as part of the government’s Intercity Express Programme, will appear on the network through Swindon and Wiltshire from summer 2017 onwards. These new trains will provide a significant improvement in rolling stock quality and passenger comfort.
In December 2018 a major timetable change will take full advantage of the Super Express Trains. There will be more through journey services from London to Cheltenham, via Swindon, with hourly intercity services replacing almost all the local services. An additional local service will be provided between Swindon and Gloucester in the morning peak and from Gloucester to Swindon in the evening peak.
There will be five trains an hour through Swindon using the new Super Express Trains. Ten carriage trains on peak services will have 15% more standard class seats than on the High Speed Trains on the route today.
Pictured top, Richard Deacon with Isambard Thomas. Below, Brunel’s ancestor at Box Tunnel