Great Western Main Line

Great Western Main Line

Maidenhead Railway Bridge] The Great Western Main Line is a main line railway in England that runs westwards from London Paddington station to Temple Meads station in Bristol. The term is also used to denote a wider group of routes, see Associated routes below.

It is the original route of the pre-1948 Great Western Railway which was subsequently taken over by the Western Region of British Railways and is now part of the Network Rail system.


The first section of the Great Western Railway was opened from London to a temporary station on the east side of the Thames at Maidenhead on 4 June 1838. The remaining line was opened in stages as the engineering works were completed:
* Maidenhead to Twyford – 1 July 1839
* Twyford to Reading – 30 March 1840
* Reading to Steventon – 1 June 1840
* Steventon to Farington Road – 20 June 1840
* Faringdon Road to Hay Lane – 17 December 1840
* Hay Lane to Chippenham – 31 May 1841
* Chippenham to Bath – 30 June 1841
* Bath to Bristol – 31 August 1840

The original RailGauge|84 broad gauge was supplemented by a third rail to allow "narrow" gauge RailGauge|ussg trains to operate over the route in various stages between 1854 and 1875, but the broad gauge rail was retained until the last empty trains had been worked back from Penzance on 21 May 1892. The dates that the sections were mixed were:
* London to Reading – 1 October 1861
* Reading to Didcot – 22 December 1856
* Didcot to Swindon – February 1872
* Swindon to Thingley Junction, Chippenham – June 1874
* Thingley Junction to Bathampton – 16 March 1875
* Bathampton to Bristol – June 1874
* Bristol station area – 29 May 1854

The original two tracks have been widened to four at several places:
* Paddington to Southall – 1 October 1877
* Southall to West Drayton – 25 November 1878
* West Drayton to Slough – 1 June 1879
* Slough to east side of Maidenhead Bridge – 8 September 1884
* Maidenhead Bridge to Reading – 4 June 1893
* Reading station – 1899
* Reading to Pangbourne – 30 July 1893
* Pangbourne to Cholsey & Moulsford –
* Cholsey & Moulsford to Didcot – 27 December 1892
* Various short sections between Didcot and Swindon, and at Bristol


Main line and local services are provided by First Great Western (FGW). The stations served by express trains between London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads are: Slough,Reading, Didcot Parkway, Swindon, Chippenham, and Bath Spa. Not all trains call at all of these stations, especially Slough and Didcot.

Fast trains from Paddington to Heathrow Airport are operated by BAA as the Heathrow Express . Local services on this route are jointly operated by FGW and BAA under the Heathrow Connect name.

CrossCountry operate trains between Reading and Oxford, using the Great Western Main Line as far as Didcot and South West Trains operate a limited number of trains between Bath and Bristol.

First Great Western also operate a train between London Paddington - Swansea (South Wales) every 30 minutes, with 2-3 trains continuing to Pembroke dock on Weekends during the summer season to connect with ferry services to Ireland.


The line speed is 125 mph (200 km/h) from London to Wootton Bassett and 100 mph (160 km/h) from there to Bristol, having been upgraded during the 1970s to support the introduction of the Intercity 125 (HST). The relief lines from Paddington to Didcot are currently limited to 90 mph (144 km/h) as far as Reading, and then 100 mph to Didcot. Lower restrictions apply at various locations.

It is one of only two Network Rail-owned lines to be equipped with the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, the other being the Chiltern Main Line. Network Rail intends to replace the ATP system with ETCS – Level 2 [] in the future alongside the introduction of the new IEP trains.

The line is electrified at 25 kV AC overhead between Paddington and Airport Junction, the junction with the line to Heathrow Airport near Hayes.

Associated routes

Trains on the Great Western Main Line are sometimes diverted from Reading along the Reading to Plymouth Line as far as Westbury, from where they can use the Wessex Main Line to reach either Chippenham and Swindon, or Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads.

Beyond Bristol, some trains continue on the Bristol to Taunton Line to Weston-super-Mare or beyond.

The Network Rail [ 2007 Business Plan] includes the following routes as part of their Great Western Main Line (Route 13):
*Didcot to Oxford and Worcester via the Cherwell Valley Line and Cotswold Line
*Swindon to Cheltenham Spa via the Golden Valley Line
*Swindon to Cardiff Central and Swansea via the South Wales Main Line
*Cross Country Routes south of Birmingham
*All connecting branch lines.

Future plans

It is planned to extend electrification from Airport Junction to Maidenhead (and possibly Reading) in connection with the Crossrail scheme, however privatisation of the railways has brought rail electrification in Britain to a virtual stop.

Traffic levels on the Great Western Main Line are rising faster than national average, with continued increases predicted. The now defunct Strategic Rail Authority produced a Route Utilisation Strategy for the Great Western Main Line in 2005 to propose ways of meeting this demand; Network Rail plan to implement a new study in 2008. In the meantime, their 2008 Business Plan highlights the large number of delays that can be reduced by improving the quality of the track, to which end a major renewal programme is underway from bases at Reading and Taunton. Further capacity improvements are also scheduled at Swindon, adding to recent changes and the new Platform 4. Some of the speed restrictions on the relief lines between Reading and London will be raised so that 86% of the line can be used at 90 mph (144 km/h).

Other more distant aspirations include resignalling and capacity improvements at Reading; the provision of four continuous tracks between Didcot and Swindon (including a grade-separated junction at Milton, where the down (westbound) relief line switches from the north side of the line to the south); and resignalling between Bath and Bristol to enable trains to run closer together.

If planning permission applied for is accepted, in 2008 major renovation work on Twyford railway station to allow for added capacity which will include a new footbridge with three lifts, one for each platform; ticket gates. Also as part of the Twyford Plan the station has been added to more High Speed schedules with Adelante trains, to add to this some unofficial plans have been heard that they will be extending the platforms to allow all High Speed trains up to 8 carriages to stop at Twyford making it a more significant station on the line since it is the only station on the Great Western Line which provides services to Henley on Thames.Fact|date=January 2008

By 2016, there are plans for a direct rail link from Swindon to London Heathrow Airport.Cite web|url=|title=Swindon 2026|accessdate=2008-02-24|publisher=Swindon Borough Council]

There are also calls for the reintroduction of a station at CorshamCite web|url=|title=Corsham Station Campaign|accessdate=2008-06-16|publisher=Corsham Station Campaign] due to recent growth of the town. The original station was closed to passengers in 1965.


Communities served: London (including Acton, Ealing, Hanwell) - Southall - Hayes - Harlington - West Drayton - Iver - Slough - Langley - Burnham - Taplow - Maidenhead - Twyford - Reading - Tilehurst - Goring-on-Thames - Streatley - Cholsey - Didcot - Swindon - Chippenham - Bath - Keynsham - Bristol

The main line was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opened in stages by the Great Western Railway between 1838 and 1841. It was originally a RailGauge|84 broad gauge railway. Evidence of this can be seen at many places where bridges are a little wider than usual, or tracks ten feet apart instead of the usual six.

From London to Didcot the line follows the Thames Valley, crossing the River Thames three times, including on the famous Maidenhead Railway Bridge. On this section there are four tracks, grouped by speed with the "relief" lines on the north side of the "main" lines. Most smaller stations only have platforms in use on the relief lines.

Didcot is home to the Didcot Railway Centre, a working steam railway museum. Soon after leaving Didcot, trains pass Didcot Power Station, a major source of freight traffic on the route with heavy coal trains running from Avonmouth near Bristol. Between Didcot and Wootton Bassett there are a series of loop lines to allow fast trains to overtake slower ones. This section is also signalled for bi-directional running on each line but this facility is usually only used during engineering working or due to significant disruption to traffic in one direction.

Swindon, the next station, was the centre of the Great Western Railway and is still the headquarters for First Great Western. Leaving the station, trains pass the Swindon railway works on the north side of the line, now home to Steam - the Museum of the Great Western Railway. On the opposite side of the line is the "Railway Village", an area of industrial housing laid out for the employees of the railway workshops and a good example of early social housing.

At Wootton Bassett the two different routes to Bristol – via Box Tunnel and via Bristol Parkway – allow flexibility. A third arrangement is to run via the Wessex Main Line but this involves a reversal at Bradford Junction so is only really suitable for multiple unit trains. A further diversionary route is available from Reading to Bath via Newbury.


* [ 2007 Business Plan] , Network Rail, London

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