Cookies on the Crossrail website

We use cookies to ensure we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Crossrail website.

Find out why we use cookies and how to manage your settings.

Crossrail uncovers Brunel’s railway heritage

By Hamish McDougall

  • 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

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.

NOTE: Many features on the website require Javascript. You can enable it via your browser's preference settings.


For further information contact the Crossrail Press Office on 020 3229 9552 or email

Notes to Editor

The archaeological excavations are undertaken by Oxford Archaeology in partnership with Ramboll on behalf of Crossrail.

The Crossrail works at Paddington New Yard involves relocating and constructing a new bus park, concrete batching plant, track beds and landscaping the tunnel portal.

The discoveries include foundations for Brunel engine sheds and workshops, dating from the 1850s and a 45ft turntable from the 1880s.

The broad-gauge engine shed was built in 1852/1853 and came into use from 1854 when Brunel's new Paddington station opened and engineering workshops were moved to Westbourne Park, with the area later becoming known as Paddington New Yard. The engine shed was 202 metres long and had four tracks with inspection pits running along its full length. 

The turntable dates from 1881/1882 and was constructed by the Great Western Railways works at Swindon. It was located at the western end of the engine shed, to which it allowed train engines access. Within the brick super structure there was a wrought iron 'turning circle' decked with timber on which both broad gauge and standard gauge engines could be turned. 

About Crossrail

The total funding available to deliver Crossrail is £14.8bn. The Crossrail route will pass through 40 stations and run more than 100km from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new twin-bore 21 km (13 miles) tunnels to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

When Crossrail opens it will increase London's rail-based transport network capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city. Crossrail services are due to commence through central London in 2018.

Crossrail is being delivered by Crossrail Limited (CRL). CRL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London. Crossrail is jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and Transport for London.

Search News