Wednesday, 28 January 2015

An Atmospheric Railway for Windsor?

An Atmospheric Railway for Windsor?

In August 1845 the Windsor, Slough and Staines Atmospheric Railway Company was formed. This aimed to build a line from Slough, through Windsor to Staines. It hoped to get around the opposition of Eton by building in a wide curve to the west of the College. The company hoped to overcome objections now emanating from the Crown authorities about noise, nuisance and dirt, for which the early engines of this period were notorious, by adopting the atmospheric system pioneered by Brunel on a short line in Devon.

The atmospheric system was ingenious. It relied on an iron tube laid between the two tracks. A rod from the train projected down and into the tube, where it ended in an airtight piston. At either end of the line, or at intervals along it if it were a long line, were erected massive stationary steam engines inside large buildings. These maintained high air pressure inside the iron tubes which pushed the trains along by way of the piston. Speeds of up to 60mph were reached on the line in Devon.

Unfortunately by the time the Bill came before Parliament in May 1845 two major problems had arisen. The first was that the Devon line had shown the atmospheric system to be almost unuseable in hot, dry weather as the leather seals dried out and cracked. Second, the Crown refused permission for the line to cross royal lands. The opposition of Eton was still vociferous, but was now almost taken for granted. The Bill was voted down in May 1846.

from Lost Railways of Berkshire by Rupert Matthews

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