Two lengths of railway track from the very earliest days of the railways have been restored at Paddington station, although you might need a few tips to be able to find them.

There are two lengths of railway — one dates from around the 1850s and to the untrained eye looks like a fairly routine piece of railway track, but was created by William Henry Barlow, the same engineer who built the massive train shed at St Pancras station. The other railway track visibly looks older, and is from an early type of “baulk road” railway developed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel — and like many of his inventions, was a bit of a failure.

The two lengths of railway are, rather oddly for a railway, mounted on the side of a wall. Quite why they are there is a bit of a mystery, but the best theory is that they were put there between the 1850s and 1920s to protect the brick wall from damage if hit by road vehicles.

They were rusting away a bit, but have recently been restored by Network Rail and the Railway Heritage Trust.

To find them, go to the northern of the two main entrances into the Elizabeth line station and look northwards — on the left side you’ll see a small road next to the main entrance slope, and the restored railway tracks can be found on the wall there. Once you spot them, it’s very obvious, and there’s also a small plaque next to them to explain their historic importance.

Incidentally, looking at the lower baulk road railway – it refers to laying the railway sleepers in a line underneath the railway track instead of at right angles as all modern railways use now.

You can however see some baulk track in use today — also at Paddington station. Pop around to Platform 1 and you can see the junction where conventional track and sleepers switch to the older baulk layout.

A little bit of historic legacy that’s walked past by hundreds of thousands of people without realising.

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6 comments
  1. Hector Blowtorch says:

    It’s strange that Network Rail’s own sign says “baulk road” – a term I’m not familiar with – is very rarely used today.

    More commonly known as long timbers, there’s still lots of it about. Often on older bridges where regular ballasted track would be too heavy.

    They’re a pain in the arse to maintain.

    • T Harris says:

      Good comment, but ‘Baulk Road’ term is correct, since it relates to Brunel’s original design.
      ‘Long Timbers’ are used on bridges etc., but are a slightly different design.

  2. Tony Weatherington steelway says:

    It was a pleasure to install and work on this project

  3. Mark Clayton says:

    There was loads of this used as fence posts between Bath and Bristol.

    As can be seen there are holes alternating on each side where spikes were driven through to fix the track directly to blocks / sleepers.

    Much simpler and lighter weight than later rails.

  4. Julian Dyer says:

    What you also see in the top photo is the last section of ‘Paxton’ ridge and furrow glass roofing (well, the framework, lacking its glass), once covering the whole trainshed, now just at the end of this old driveway. A little detail showing the links between Paddington station and the Crystal Palace built at the same time by the same builders. See the superb English Heritage book by Steven Brindle

  5. T Harris says:

    As a bit of extra background, this area formed part of the Paddington ‘Milk Dock’ up until about 1928, hence the rails on the wall where the road vehicle loading bay was located.

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