special feature
What difference?
At the dawn of the Railway Age, timber
was in widespread use for the construction of railway infrastructure. Explore the story of timber rail structures in Wales, source of materials
vital to the Industrial Revolution.
This essay was funded by
the ICE R&D Panel
Institution of Civil Engineers
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Timber Railway Viaducts in Wales
essay by Stephen K. Jones, adapted by Eleanor Knowles and Jane Joyce
from The Use of Timber Viaducts in Wales (2015)
Loughor Viaduact, before 1907
Timber pile viaducts were once a common sight in Wales — a rich heritage of the Railway Age (c.1830-70). They were designed by eminent engineers of the 19th century as part of the rapidly expanding railway networks that served the South Wales industrial complexes and the coastal areas of the whole country.
In this adaptation of Stephen K. Jones' essay, the reasons for using timber in Welsh railway construction are explored, principally through the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) on the South Wales mainline and lines serving the Welsh valleys, and through the work of various engineers working on the Cambrian Coast Railway.
Sadly, almost all the major viaducts have gone — only one of those discussed survives and few remnants of others remain. Brunel's Loughor Viaduct, pictured above, was replaced as recently as 2013. Barmouth Viaduct, possibly the best known example in Wales, is however still in use, and is one of the longest extant timber viaducts in the UK.
next >
introduction |  use of timber |  Brunel in South Wales |  Rhys William Jones
South Wales Railway |  Vale of Neath Railway |  Cambrian Coast Railway
other timber railway structures |  sources + reading list

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"... I have used timber a great deal in construction and see no difficulty in making arches for railways of 250 feet span — in fact I am projecting a larger one at the present."
Isambard Kingdon Brunel
Some principal bridges
14.3m ... Pont y Cafnau 1793 CAST IRON : Watkin George ... Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, UK
30.6m ... Iron Bridge 1781 CAST IRON : Abraham Darby III ... Ironbridge, Shropshire, UK
39m ... Maidenhead R'way Bridge 1834 BRICK : I.K. Brunel ... Maidenhead, UK
42.7m ... William Edwards Bridge 1756 STONE : William Edwards ... Pontypridd, Wales, UK
50.5m ... Virginia Water Bridge c.1750 TIMBER : Henry Flitcroft ... Windsor Great Park, UK
56m ... Pont de Vieille-Brioude 1454 STONE : Grenier and Estone ... Haute-Loire, France
71.9m ... Wearmouth Bridge 1796 CAST IRON : Rowland Burdon / Thomas Wilson ... Sunderland, UK
76.5m ... Trezzo sull'Adda Bridge 1377 STONE : not known ... Lombardy, Italy
110m ... Union Suspension Bridge 1820 WROUGHT IRON : Capt Sir Samuel Brown ... Borders, UK
175.8m ... Menai Suspension Bridge 1826 WROUGHT IRON : Thomas Telford ... Wales, UK
12.2m - 30.5m (37 spans over 536m) ... Landore Viaduct 1850 TIMBER : I.K. Brunel ... Wales, UK