Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Greatest Achievements

Isambard Brunel – Bronze statue of Brunel at Temple in London

After completing his apprenticeship, he returned to his birth country, England, and was immediately employed by his father as an assistant engineer. In 1825, the father and son began working on the Thames Tunnel in a bid to connect Rotherhithe to Wapping.

The Thames Tunnel

In 1865, the East London Railway Company bought the Thames Tunnel for 200,000 pounds. Four years later, the first trains passed through the tunnel. Part of the London Overground Network, the Thames Tunnel remains in use to this day.

While constructing the tunnel under London’s River Thames, engineers and workers alike had to endure some of the most dangerous conditions a construction site could ever have. The workers had to contend with cave-ins quite often. He and his father, who was the chief engineer, developed an apparatus that in so many ways reduced the risks of cave-ins.

Unfortunately, the junior Brunel sustained life-threatening injuries during a flood incident which killed several workers on the site. The accident effectively ruled him out of the project for good as he had to recuperate for six months.

Due to technical difficulties, the project was paused for a number of years before it was completed in the 1830s.

Bridges designed and constructed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel

When it comes to bridge designing, very few engineers and designers of the early Victorian age could hold a candle to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The Portsmouth-born engineer is credited with designing a number of very important bridges, including the Royal Albert Bridge, Somerset Bridge, the Windsor Railway Bridge, the Maidenhead Railway, and the Clifton Suspension, and among others.

Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol

The Clifton Suspension Bridge spans Avon Gorge through Clifton, Bristol, to Leigh Woods in North Somerset. At the time of its completion in 1864, it was world’s longest bridge in terms of span.

There have been some controversies over the true designer of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. The final shape that the bridge took is said to slightly vary from the original designs submitted by Isambard Brunel.

The Royal Albert Bridge

As part of the memorials that poured in a plaque was placed at the Royal Albert Bridge | Image: The Royal Albert Bridge spanning the River Tamar at Saltash

With regard to the Royal Albert Bridge (formerly the Saltash Bridge) , it was designed by Brunel in 1865 for the Cornwall Railway. The bridge, which has two main spans of 455 ft (139 m) and 100 ft (30 m) spanning the River Tamar at Saltash near Plymouth, was opened by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert on on May 2, 1859.

The Maidenhead Bridge

One of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s bridges, the Maidenhead Railway Bridge, was the largest span for a brick arch bridge at the time

As at the time that the Maidenhead Bridge, which is over the Thames in Berkshire, was built, it held the honor of being the flattest brick arch in the world. Brunel deployed some very innovative techniques, including compressed-air caisson, which as we know has become a staple technique in underwater and underground construction.

Brunel also designed three Bridges in London. Construction began in 1856 and was completed in 1859. Those three bridges are crucial as they allow for the Great Western and Brentford Railway and Grand Junction Canal to cross each other.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway projects

Paddington station was the London terminus of the Great Western Railway

One of the reasons why Brunel became so renowned in the engineering community had to do with many of the important railways he designed and constructed, not just in the United Kingdom, but also in Australia, India, and Italy.

Great Western Railway (GWR)

Perhaps the biggest and most popular railway projects undertaken by this English engineer came during his time working (beginning in 1833) as the chief engineer of the Great Western Railway Company (GWRC).

The GWRC set out to elevate the city of Bristol to lofty heights by making it an important merchant route and main point of departure for both cargo and passengers heading across the Atlantic.

Brunel came up with the idea of not just having a railway line from London to Bristol, but having a line that would go from London to New York. Obviously, he meant incorporating the Great Western steamship at the terminus in Neyland, West Wales, into the railway infrastructure.

By 1838, the first trains of the Great Western Railway had begun running. To make the journey faster and more comfortable for passengers, he used broad gauge of 7 ft ¼ in (2140 mm) instead of the standard gauge of 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1435 mm).

He also designed the Royal Hotel in Bath, which is opposite the railway station.

The London Paddington Station

In 1854, the London Paddington Station opened. A Great Western Railway project, the design was made by Brunel who was inspired Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace that hosted the 1851 Great Exhibition.

In honor of Brunel, the city’s authorities placed a life-size bronze statue (sculpted by John Doubleday) of the engineer between Platforms 8 and 9.

Brunel’s atmospheric railway

The atmospheric railway designed by Brunel was placed as an extension of the Great Western Railway (GWR) from Exeter to Plymouth.

During construction, the engineer chose not to use locomotives; instead he took inspiration from engineers Samuel Clegg and Joseph and Jacob Samuda’s patented system of atmospheric traction which uses stationary pumps to suck air from a pipe placed in the center of the track.

The atmospheric railway ran about 68 miles per hour (109 km/h); however, due to some technical challenges and high replacement cost of the parts, the project ended up not being one of Brunel’s greatest achievements. For example, it was about three times more expensive to operate than conventional steam power railways.

The life-size statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in Paddington Station, London, England

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