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Crossrail uncovers Brunel’s railway heritage

  • Victorian-era rail infrastructure excavated near Paddington as part of the UK’s largest archaeological programme
  • Engineering marvels of the Great Western Railway are uncovered for the first time in more than 100 years
  • Public offered exclusive chance to visit the site and explore the finds.  Tickets can be booked via the Crossrail Eventbrite page

Remains of structures built by celebrated engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel for his Great Western Railway have been unearthed near Paddington in west London.

Newly excavated by Crossrail as part of the UK’s largest archaeological programme, findings include foundations of a 200 metre long engine shed, a workshop and turntables. The structures were used for Brunel’s famous broad-gauge railway, which first ran steam trains through the area in 1838.

The Crossrail archaeology team is documenting the remains using laser scans, creating 3D models of the buildings which date from the 1850s and were levelled in 1906 to make way for a goods storage yard. These records will help historians understand the early development of railways in the UK and the methods of Brunel, widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest engineers.

Jay Carver, Crossrail’s Lead Archaeologist said: “Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway is the most complete early mainline railway in the world. Whenever we expose parts of the original infrastructure it is vital to record these for posterity and the history of rail in this country. Using the latest 3D scan technology provides a permanent and accurate model Brunel’s distinctive architectural legacy.”

The remains were found on a construction site known as Paddington New Yard, to the east of Westbourne Park Tube station. From 2018 the area will accommodate Crossrail tracks, turn-back sidings, an elevated bus deck and cement factory, which had to be temporarily relocated to accommodate the building of Crossrail. The works at Paddington New Yard are being undertaken by Costain.

The engine shed shows evidence of the change from 7 foot wide broad-gauge train tracks used by Brunel’s Great Western Railway, to the standard gauge tracks prescribed in an Act of Parliament in 1846 and widely implemented by the 1860s. Brunel initially resisted this change in the so-called ‘Gauge Wars’.

To date, Crossrail’s archeology programme has discovered over 10,000 items spanning 55 million years of London’s history across 40 construction sites. Notable finds include Roman remains, plague pits, the Bedlam hospital burial grounds and a Tudor manor house.

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