About Great Western Railway
In 1883, Brunel became chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. The design of a railway line which linked Bristol to London took up much of Brunel's time. One controversial proposal that he made was for a broad gauge – 7 feet ¼ inches, than the then-standard 4 feet 8 ½ inches (1435 mm). He suggested that by doing this trains could travel at high speeds. Many opposed his idea. The broad gauge was eventually used on some railway lines. However, the 1845 Royal Commission thought that it would be too expensive to be used nationwide.
Brunel also had ambitious plans for the design of Paddington Station, the London terminus for the Great Western Railway. He was given the task of building it in 1849 to be ready for the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.
Shipbuilding to the End
As well as structures on land, Brunel was responsible for designing a number of ships. These included the Great Western, which was launched in 1837. This was the first steamship to make transatlantic voyages.
Another ship, the Great Eastern, designed with John Scott Russell, was the biggest ship ever built at the time. Early in the construction of the ship, Brunel collapsed on deck. Too ill to join the ship on its maiden voyage, He died on 15th September 1859.
The Legacy of Brunel
The legacy of Brunel has lived on. The structures he was responsible for remain here for us all to see. His reputation continues to be strong. During the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the character of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, played by Kenneth Branagh in a section, was seen as a key figure in British 19th century history.
A 1950s biography of Brunel by Lionel Thomas Caswall Rolt, which many regard as a definitive work on the man, painted a picture of Brunel as an ambitious and determined genius. For many, he is one of the greatest people to come out of Britain. In a 2002 a public poll, which was organised by the BBC, set out to find the '100 Greatest Britons.' Brunel was placed in second place.