In­side Box Tun­nel

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

Great Western Railway uses Brunel’s birth­day as the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to test a great railway myth…

GREAT Western Railway used Isam­bard King­dom Brunel’s 211th birth­day on April 9 as the per­fect op­por­tu­nity for in­ves­ti­gat­ing one of the railway’s great­est myths - did the en­gi­neer de­sign Box Tun­nel so that the sun shines di­rectly through the struc­ture on his birth­day?

The two-mile struc­ture, near Bath, has long been the sub­ject of this be­lief, and GWR de­cided to test the myth. The op­er­a­tor said that engi­neers and math­e­ma­ti­cians had pre­vi­ously con­cluded it could be true, with cal­cu­la­tions pub­lished in New Civil En­gi­neer mag­a­zine and else­where.

GWR con­firmed that the tun­nel does align with the ris­ing sun, and that the sun does light up a sig­nif­i­cant sec­tion of the tun­nel. How­ever, de­spite the sunny con­di­tions of April 9 this year, the sun­light did not make it all the way through the struc­ture.

“The align­ment of the sun di­rectly be­tween the tracks makes it dif­fi­cult to imag­ine it wasn’t en­gi­neered. Given that the sun rises in a slightly dif­fer­ent spot from the east each day it’s hard to pre­dict the days with pin­point ac­cu­racy,” said GWR Com­mer­cial De­vel­op­ment Di­rec­tor Matthew Golton.

“That said, Brunel might have cal­cu­lated it right - when build­ing the tun­nel his cal­cu­la­tions were so ac­cu­rate that when the two ends joined up it was only five cen­time­tres out. But he may not have taken into ac­count leap years, and so the sun ef­fect has moved away from the ac­tual day of his birth­day. Take a look at the pho­tos and draw your own con­clu­sions.”

GWR took the op­por­tu­nity to test the the­ory this year be­cause a pos­ses­sion at Bath meant there was ac­cess to the railway.


In­side Box Tun­nel on April 9 (Isam­bard King­dom Brunel’s 211th birth­day), engi­neers try to prove if the sun does shine through the en­tire struc­ture on Brunel’s birth­day.

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