Didcot Railway Centre
Oxon OX11 7NJ
The attraction of Didcot Railway Centre in Oxfordshire is that it is an actual remnant of the original Great Western Railway (GWR). The site boasts one of the finest collections of GWR steam locomotives, coaches, wagons and buildings in the country.
The Centre is right beside Didcot Parkway main line railway station and easily accessible from London Paddington station by a fast railway service. We strongly recommend this mode of transport.
The site retains many original GWR features including the 1932 engine shed, turntable pit and coal stage. The turntable itself is a Southern Railway item from the Southampton Docks.
GWR Engine Shed
Most of the Centre is a fascinating static museum centred around the superb Engine Shed full of beautifully restored GWR steam locos but there are two short lengths of running track, each with a station at both ends. The shortest line is known as the Branch Line and the longer, which runs for half a mile (.8 km), is known as the Main Line.
In the 19th century railways were built in a mixture of gauges. The Broad Gauge of 7 ft &1⁄4 inches (2,140 mm) provided greater comfort, safety and speed but it was the Narrow Gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches (1435.1mm) that became the Standard Gauge.
The brilliant young engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel chose broad gauge for the GWR but this necessitated manual transfer of goods between the two gauges. A Transfer Shed is the northern terminus of the Branch Line. The shed has a central platform, with a standard gauge line on one side and a broad gauge one on the other, to make this transfer as easy as possible.
The Branch Line
This is the most fascinating section of track because Brunel’s broad gauge and overhead signaling system have been recreated beside the standard gauge track. There is an extensive collection of GWR signalling equipment. Not only are there two signal boxes, a level crossing and an impressive array of semaphore signals but also cast-iron signs, spear fencing, stone setts and the once ubiquitous telegraph wires.
Generally the signalling equipment is based around two different periods each centred on one of the two signalboxes. Radstock North Signal box has been restored to a 1930s condition and controls equipment of a similar vintage - it has been accurately restored down to the last detail.
Frome Mineral Junction Signal Cabin has been taken back to the 1870s and controls a, largely replica, system of 19th century signaling.
The Branch Line runs down the western side of the Railway Centre, from Didcot Halt, located near the turntable in the centre of the site, to the Transfer Shed at the north end of the Centre.
- Didcot Halt
Didcot Halt represents a typical GWR wayside stopping place. The principal buildings are a corrugated iron 'pagoda' shelter on the platform, and a wooden Ticket Office.
The Branch Line has been created from objects and buildings brought from genuine GWR lines throughout South West England.
To complete the atmosphere The Great Western Society runs small locos and the ‘Fire Fly’, a replica 1840s broad gauge loco, on steam days.
The Main Line
The main demonstration line at Didcot runs the entire length of the Centre, a distance of nearly half a mile (0.8km).
Starting adjacent to the entrance from Eynsham platform, it runs along the Centre's eastern boundary, to Oxford Road halt. This is little more than a platform in the woods but there are plans to erect a substantial station building from Heyford.
On steam days the large locos run on this line usually hauling coaches from the 1930s. Passengers may return to the Centre on the train, along the path which runs beside the line or cross over to the Transfer Shed for a ride on the broad gauge.
Even on non-steam days there is a lot to see. The Centre has a superb website with plenty of images to whet the appetite.
Plan Your Visit
Saturdays & Sundays all year (except 25 & 26 December) from 10:30 hours
Daily between selected dates - go to Web: Didcot Railway Centre Visitor Information
Prices vary according to whether steam trains are running - go to Web: Didcot Railway Centre Admission Costs
Access is via the Didcot Parkway Station subway with an unavoidable flight of 18 steps.
Once inside the Centre it is mainly level ground. Wheelchairs are available from the Centre. Disabled toilet are on site - go to Web: Didcot Railway Centre Accessibility
Toilets; Refreshment Room; Picnic Area; Railway Shop & Enquiry Office - go to Web: Didcot Railway Centre Food & Drink
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1235 817 200
From personal experience, we recommend that the visitor travel to Didcot Railway Centre by Mainline Rail. For excellent travel information, go to Web: Didcot Railway Centre 'Getting There'
Google Map - Didcott Railway Centre