VOTE NOW: The Seven Wonders of the Railway


Barmouth Bridge

This under-publicised wooden viaduct – one of the longest on the network – symbolises survival against all the odds. It’s over 150 years old and has withstood Dr Beeching’s ‘axe’ and marine woodworm to keeping the towns and villages along the beautiful Cambrian coast linked by rail.

With its stunning Snowdonia backdrop – it’s visible from Cader Idris on a clear day - the structure is a favourite on railway posters and calendars. It was missed from Rob Bell’s recent TV documentary series Britain’s Greatest Bridges. Surely, it’s now time for this remarkable viaduct to get the recognition it deserves?

Date opened: October 10 1867

Built for: Aberystwith & Welsh Coast Railway

Current status: Open


Blea Moor Tunnel

Whereas Ribblehead viaduct can be easily spotted on the Settle-Carlisle Line, Blea Moor tunnel is less obvious. However, it can be seen from the remains of the spoil tips just how much earth was moved during its five-year construction. Much of the work was carried out by hand, though the newly developed dynamite was also used. The 1 1/2-mile tunnel (the longest on the S&C) claimed the lives of several men during its construction. Heavy rain caused flooding in the bores while several explosions were caused by men drying out dynamite on braziers.

Date opened: 1875

Built for: Midland Railway

Current status: Open


Box Tunnel

Does any railway location have as many myths attached to it as Box Tunnel? The sun shining though it on Brunel’s birthday is a good one and could seem credible. Dionysius Lardner claimed that due to its 1-in-100 gradient, a train would exit it at 120mph whereas enthusiasts’ claims that BR ‘strategic reserve’ of steam locomotives were stored there were just as ridiculous.

Box Tunnel is hugely impressive, however. Some 414,000 cubic yards of spoil were removed from Box Hill to create a 39ft high and 35ft wide tunnel. This impressive digging achievement was crowned by Brunel’s typical elegant yet somehow minimalistic Egyptian inspired western portal.

The east portal is plainer, and complemented by a smaller portal, which gives access to the underground quarries from where Bath stone was excavated. During the Second World War, these tunnels became part of a massive ammunition dump. So, it’s an impressive structure with an equally intriguing story.

Date opened: June 30 1841

Built for: Great Western Railway

Current use: Open


Cambrian Line (Machynlleth to Pwllheli)

The Cambrian Coast line from Machynlleth to Pwllheli is one of the railway’s best kept secrets. It can challenge the best scenery that Scotland has to offer, skirting the Snowdonia National Park.

It follows the twists and turns of the Welsh coast, perching precariously on ledges, crossing estuaries and inlets of quaint and curious bridges and diving into short tunnels and even avalanche shelters.

There’s not just a great view from the carriage window for the Cambrian Coast Line links fascinating towns and villages, spectacular castles and, for the enthusiast, five of The Great Little Trains of Wales. The Cambrian Coast Line – a true hidden gem.

Date opened: Aberystwyth & Welsh Coast Railway

Built for: July 1 1863

Current status: Open


Causey Arch

Confidence is a funny thing. Brunel calculated that his engineering marvels would work. If only stonemason Ralph Wood had such confidence in himself.

Wood was responsible for the Causey Arch, the world’s first single arch railway bridge. It was built in the 1720s for a new branch on the Tanfield horse-drawn wagonway and was, when finished, the world’s largest single span bridge.

Wood didn’t think his design would work and he killed himself. He never knew that his design would later carry a conventional railway or that, nearly 300 years later, it would still stand proud over Causey Burn.

Date opened: 1726

Built for: Tanfield waggonway

Current status: Footpath


Channel Tunnel

Stupendous facts: over 25 miles long, the longest undersea tunnel in the world, carries 30% of the UKs trade with the Continent and beyond, five years in the making and carries thousands of cars, trucks, passengers and containers between Britain and France.

The ‘Tunnel sous la Manche’ as the French call it is widely regarded as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. No less remarkable was the political will to build this tunnel between Britain and the Continent. Opened in 1994, it was made complete by the High Speed Link to the newly and stunningly restored St Pancras.

Anthony Smith, Chief Executive, Transport Focus


Claydon Tunnel

The London to Brighton main line doesn’t usually spring to mind when thinking about architecturally striking stretches of railway, but it really should. The southern portal of Claydon tunnel in West Sussex is quite plain. But its plainness is more than made up for by what’s at the other end. The turreted and castellated portal was designed to appease the land owner and it really does look like some kind of medieval castle with trains emerging from it.

However, the icing on the cake is the little brick cottage that perches above it. This was designed by the line’s engineer John Urpeth Rastrick in 1849 for the tunnel’s lamp-lighter to live in. This may have been a humble job but the lucky recipient of the cottage must have felt like a king in his very own castle!

Date opened: September 21 1841

Built for: London & Brighton railway

Current use: Open


Conwy & Britannia Bridges

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is often hailed as a visionary when it comes to bridge design, often overshadowing his contemporary – and friend – Robert Stephenson. But Stephenson was just as able to produce as striking designs as Brunel... sometimes even inspiring him.

The Chester & Holyhead Railway needed to cross the Menai Straits, the stretch of water that separates Anglesey with the rest of Wales. It was a challenge, especially as any bridge couldn’t affect shipping in the straits.

Stephenson, with the help of eminent engineers William Fairbairn and Eaton Hodgkinson, devised a bridge where trains travelled inside a rectangular iron tube, supported on masonry piers.

The theory was tested across the River Conwy, with the portals specially designed to blend it with King Edward I’s castle. Meanwhile, four stone lions protected the Britannia Bridge, until the 1970s, when it caught fire. The lions survive, as does Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge... which was inspired by Stephenson’s work here!

Date opened: 1849/1850

Built for: Chester & Holyhead Railway

Current status: Open


Dawlish Coast Line

The Dawlish Sea Wall stretch of railway is one of the best-known sections of the UK rail network. Designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it opened in 1847. It follows tidal waters for 13 miles - four miles of sea, and nine miles alongside the Rivers Exe and Teign - on the main Exeter-Plymouth line.

As a Devonian who lived only metres from the wall when I was small, there is something magical about this stretch of line. There is, perhaps, no other rail location in the UK that attracts such a high level of interest.

Millions of holidaymakers will have been enthralled at the sight, as the twin-track railway swings past Langstone Rock (west of Dawlish Warren station), and hugs the shore at Dawlish, with the English Channel stretching out as far as the eye can see.

On the footpath that also forms part of the wall, people will merrily wave as the trains pass. Below, many will be basking in the sun, within feet of a fast-moving train.

The iconic red sandstone cliffs that tower over the line, the picturesque seaside town of Dawlish and the lush greenery above the tunnels all add to the magic of this stretch.

Richard Clinnick, Assistant Editor, RAIL

Date opened: 1847

Built for: South Devon Railway

Current status: Open


Digswell Viaduct

The railway often conjures up youthful nostalgia and, for me, Digswell Viaduct (also known as Welwyn Viaduct) does that better than any other landmark. I was lucky that my school was right next to it. We would visit the picturesque lakes underneath its Roman style arches, admiring the nature and wildlife.

Its history is fascinating and often unknown. Opened in 1850 by Queen Victoria, the track is 100ft above ground level, stretching to over 1500ft long. It was so vast that Queen Victoria was too scared to travel over it.

 The viaduct sits in the majestic English countryside, a feat of engineering brilliance which leads into the heart of London city. It has stood the test of time, and will now welcome in a new era of rail, graced with sleek new 21st century trains. Long may this achievement of engineering beauty continue to inspire future generations of budding railway enthusiasts!

Karen Boswell OBE, Group CAO, Hitachi Rail and Managing Director, Hitachi Rail Europe


Ffestiniog Railway

The Ffestiniog Railway was a pivotal moment in world railway development. Building to a gauge narrower than 4ft 8 1/2in meant that you could drive a railway through terrain that would have been too expensive, to access locations and freight traffic previously too remote to be considered as a railway terminus. With a narrow gauge railway, any settlement either in Britain or in the Empire - could have its own railway and thus a link to the outside world.

What makes this little railway even more important is that its visionary engineer Charles Spooner realised that locomotives could be built small enough to run on it. The arrival of Princess from George England’s works in 1863 meant that the world would never be the same again. And apart from a brief hiatus in the 1940s, steam has continued to ply its away through this spectacular corner of Wales ever since.

Date opened: April 20 1836

Built for: Ffestiniog Railway Company

Current status: Open


Forth Bridge

Here is a structure that needs no introduction. That giant vision of red girders spanning the Firth of Forth really does deserve the title ‘iconic’. It’s vast, yet elegant and fully deserves its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The bridge combined the engineering genius of Sir John Fowler (Metropolitan Railway), William Barlow (St Pancras roof) and Sir Benjamin Baker (Aswan Low Dam). It may look over-engineered but it was designed in response to the collapse of the Tay Bridge – and, 130 years after it was built, it’s now carrying nearly 200 trains a day.

Any structure that becomes a simile – “as long as painting the Forth Bridge…” – surely deserves to be a Wonder of the railway.

Date opened: March 4 1890

Built for: North British Railway

Current status: Open


George Stephenson’s birthplace

This list features some stupendous feats of engineering brilliance. This humble cottage, nestling in the Northumberland countryside is as far removed from the Forth Bridge or the Severn Tunnel as it’s possible to be. And yet, born here in on June 9 1781, was the man who changed the world.

George Stephenson rightly deserves the title ‘The Father of Railways’. He turned what was an experimental and temperamental form of transport into the mass transport system it is today. He was a vital link in the story of the Industrial Revolution. Without Stephenson, there’s no Stockton & Darlington, no Liverpool & Manchester and, of course, no Robert Stephenson, whose impact on locomotive design was just as vital.

Date opened: N/a

Built for: N/a

Current status: Owned by National Trust but no longer open to the public


Glenfinnan Viaduct

What’s Glenfinnan best known for? Where Prince Charles Edward Stuart raised his standard in 1745 and thus starting the Jacobite Rising? Or where a GWR ‘Hall’ nearly ploughs into two student wizards in a flying Ford Anglia?

The West Highland Railway’s Mallaig Extension is one of Britain’s greatest railway journeys with Glenfinnan Viaduct is one of the highlights. The curving 21 arches provides a great view of Loch Shiel and the monument that marks where ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ made his stand. 

It may have been made more famous by the exploits of Harry Potter and his wizarding chums but the viaduct staked its claim in history from the moment it was built. The reason for its grey colour was because it was made from concrete.

Mass concrete – which was not reinforced with metal – was the most effective way to cross the valley as the local rock was unworkable. Construction was overseen by Robert McAlpine, which gave rise to his ‘Concrete Bob’ nickname.

Date opened: April 1 1901

Built for: West Highland Railway (Mallaig Extension)

Current status: Open


Goathland station

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is one of Britain’s busiest preserved lines so it’s easy to forget its unique history. The Whitby & Pickering is one of Britain’s earliest railways, opening in 1836 to George Stephenson’s designs, with single coaches being hauled by horses and incline planes. By 1865, it had been converted into a double track, steam-worked railway, which included many deviations from the original route.

Goathland’s beautiful station is instantly recognisable, its sinuous curves a result of the railway’s alterations. The original station site still exists but its Thomas Prosser’s classic buildings that are familiar to millions, either as Hogwarts or Aidensfield from Heartbeat.

Date opened: 1865

Built for: North Eastern Railway

Current status: Open


Great Western Railway main line (London-Bristol)

HS2, TGV, the Japanese Shinkansen – all owe their origins to the Great Western Railway. The GWR’s directors wanted a railway that linked London and Bristol. But engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel felt that was a limited view – he saw an opportunity to get people from London to New York as quickly as possible.

The GWR main line is what genius looks like. A ruling grade of 1-in-1,320, innovative engineering solutions and a track gauge purpos- built for speed. What makes it a true wonder is that Brunel was able to take this futuristic taste of rail travel and blend it seamlessly into the landscape.

Revolutionary ships, railway villages for workers, the production-line arrangement of Swindon Works; quality refreshments; the Great Western main line is much more than just a railway and yet the first part opened just 13 years after the Stockton & Darlington. Its influence can still be felt today. 

Date opened: June 30 1841

Built for: Great Western Railway

Current status: Open


High Speed 1

We Britons are a frugal race but there are times when it’s impossible to scrimp and save – to get the best, we have to dig deep and spend money.

There was no point building a tunnel under the Channel if those high speed trains had to pick their way across a Victorian railway system to reach London.

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link is Britain’s only dedicated ‘high speed’ railway and its damned impressive. One minute you’re climbing, the next you’re diving into a tunnel, all at high speed and all rather comfortably. Under the Thames, over the Medway – it doesn’t matter what the landscape is, CTRL gets round it – or through it – in style.

North Downs Tunnel near Maidstone typifies this approach. Engineer’s weren’t put off by soft chalk so sprayed concrete lining was used along with a reinforced concrete lining to keep everything secure. The result is one of Britain’s deepest twin track railway tunnels.

Date opened: 2003

Built for: N/A

Current status: Open


Horseshoe curves, Tyndrum

The West Highland Railway is a classic example of how Victorian engineers could tame the landscape. And there is no landscape wilder than the Scottish Highlands.

Think of the West Highland, and one would immediately focus on Rannoch Moor. Miles and miles of bleakly beautiful nothing, with the railway floating on its bed of reeds.

But the wonderful horseshoe curves between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy is an even more spectacular piece of engineering. The railway clings to the hillsides, high above the valley, twisting and climbing. It’s one of the few spots where the view of watching a train is as dramatic as the view from the window.

Date open: August 7 1894

Built for: West Highland Railway

Current status: Open


Kings Mill Viaduct

Stockton, Darlington, Liverpool, Manchester – these were the towns where the seeds to Britain’s railway network were sown, right? But Mansfield?

It’s often forgotten that plateways and waggonways had started to spring up in all sorts of places long before the Trevithicks, Headleys and Stephensons decided to experiment with steam power. The Mansfield & Pinxton Railway opened in 1819, six years before the Stockton & Darlington.

Kings Mill viaduct was the line’s crowning civil engineering glory. It might look quaint and small against the likes of Ribblehead or Harringworth but its handsome arches have spanned the river Maun since 1817, making it Britain’s oldest railway viaduct.

Date opened: April 13 1819

Built for: Mansfield & Pinxton Railway

Current status: Footpath


Liverpool & Manchester Railway

The Liverpool & Manchester Railway is where it all came together. This was the world’s first inter-city railway, and the first railway designed and built with a double track main line. It was laid out for steam use over the vast majority of its length, and had passengers in mind as the major traffic from day one. 

The station at Manchester Liverpool Road, now the Museum of Science & Industry, laid out principles of operation that we can still see in stations and airport terminals to this day. Structures such as the Sankey Viaduct were on a scale not seen since Roman times, and were built capable of carrying 21st century loads.  

Post-Rainhill steam locomotives were almost all built on the principles of the LMR’s famous Rocket, right through to the Evening Star. I always date the start of the railway age to the opening of the LMR on September 15 1830.

Andy Savage, Executive Director, Railway Heritage Trust


London King’s Cross station

Let’s hear it for King’s Cross station. I am talking here of the original station, not the excellent recent addition. Stand in the Euston Road and admire the clean lines and simplicity of the two arches separated by a tower that would not be out of place in an Italian piazza. And all built for just £125,000, a fraction of its pompous neighbour, and, best of all, newly liberated from its ghastly ‘60s frontage. Simply London - and the railway’s - finest. 

Christian Wolmar, RAIL columnist


London Paddington station

Paddington has a feel that none of the other main London termini can match. It feels light and airy under those four great spans, making King’s Cross and St Pancras feel almost claustrophobic in comparison.

You can almost imagine Brunel’s reaction when he was told that his grand vision would not have its own grand terminus. GWR management had made arrangements to share Euston and Brunel rebuked them for their lack of vision. His first station at Paddington was a simple thing of wood but, by roping in Great Exhibition colleagues Matthew Digby-Wyatt and Joseph Paxton, it was swiftly replaced by a grand structure of steel and glass.

That link to the Crystal Palace is what makes Paddington such a pleasant place from which to catch a train. And being forever linked to a small, marmalade-loving bear probably doesn’t hurt either…

Date opened: January 16 1854

Built for: Great Western Railway

Current use: Open


Maidenhead Bridge

Crossing navigable rivers was always a thorn in the side of any railway builder. Sails and masts required height. This was fine unless you need a very low, flat bridge.

Only one man wanted such a bridge. Brunel wanted to keep the trackbed of his high speed main line as level as possible. A hump over the River Thames at Maidenhead was definitely not in his plans.

The result was uniquely Brunelian – a two-span bridge with elliptical arches that provide enough height for boats but doesn’t spoil the 1-in-1,320 ruling grade. Many believed that it wouldn’t stand up. But Brunel proved everyone wrong. Again.

Date opened: July 1 1869

Built for: Great Western Railway

Current status: Open


Meldon Viaduct

Trestle bridges were an economical way to cross large valleys in the cheapest possible way. You turn to the cheapest possible material, which is usually wood. But what happens if you don’t have access to a lot of trees?

Lattice girders were a common bridge construction method in the UK but usually mounted on masonry piers. Sometimes, however, it was more economical to use wrought iron columns, creating something like Canada’s Kinsol Trestle but for post-Industrial Revolution Britain.

Meldon Viaduct on the London & South Western Railway’s main line from Exeter is a worthy inclusion for three reasons: the ‘Withered Arm’ was a Mecca for enthusiasts and the viaduct became a focal point for countless images; it still survives and that a few years after the line opened, a copy was made in steel to provide a double track main line over the valley.

Whether it will ever play host to trains again, though, is anyone’s guess.

Date opened: 1871

Built for: London & South Western Railway

Current status: Footpath/cycleway


Metropolitan Railway

My nomination must be the original Metropolitan Railway of 1863. From Paddington (Bishop’s Road) to Farringdon, this was the world’s first underground railway.

Regarded as a wonder the day it opened, it paved the way for underground railway transport which has made London and many other world cities the places they are today. It was a struggle to finance and build, but transformed the size of London and its economy. And, of course, it’s still in use today with new trains and, shortly, new digital signalling.

The ‘Met’ celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013 with a proper and authentic steam train. It was particularly fitting, both for the historical significance and to show the contrast between then and now.

Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Chairman, Network Rail


Northenden Junction signalbox

The humble signalbox comes in all forms: small ones, long ones, elevated ones. But Northenden Junction ‘box, with its 25-lever frame, is almost unique in its height. This eye-catching design was produced to give signalmen unparalleled views over the adjacent Longley Lane road bridge to control the junction to Stockport Edgeley and the freight-only line to Hazel Grove High Level. It also controls two separate freight sidings.

Northenden Junction plays two functions. It shows the lengths that the railways went to ensure safety but it does typify the traditional urban signalbox. But the signalbox is now a dying breed and, with the start of the East Cheshire resignalling scheme, how long Northenden Junction ‘box has left is anybody’s guess…

Built for: Cheshire Lines Committee

Current status: Open


Ordsall Chord

One of the key arguments behind building HS2 is that it will free up capacity on what is a very congested railway. But, sometimes, you don’t need to do anything quite as grand as building an all new, multi-billion-pound main line to make the railway better.

The Ordsall Chord is just 300 metres long but, via what’s been described as the world’s first asymmetrical rail bridge, will increase capacity on Manchester’s railways and improve connectivity from the city’s three main stations - Piccadilly, Victoria and Oxford Road.

The Ordsall Chord - small, but perfectly formed!

Date open: December 10 2017

Built for: Network Rail

Current use: Open


Railway People

I didn’t want to choose one of the obvious engineering wonders of our railway. For me the greater wonder is the increasingly diverse but constantly passionate group of people who do their best to build, maintain, operate and support our railway for those who depend upon it or choose to use it. That so many of them do this so well, often in difficult circumstances, and that they bear the brunt of customer frustration when we get things wrong is wonderful.

Paul Plummer, Chief Executive, Rail Delivery Group


Ribblehead Viaduct

This 24-arch viaduct towers above the Yorkshire moorland on the Settle-Carlisle Line, but further away the landscape turns the tables and this stone edifice seems to get lost against the backdrops of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent. But it does have to be one of the most photographed and easily recognisable features on Britain's railways.

Ribblehead Viaduct is 28 miles north-west of Skipton and 26 miles south-east of Kendal. The Grade 2-listed viaduct is the longest and third tallest structure on the S&C.

Designed by John Sydney Crossley, who was chief engineer of the Midland Railway, the viaduct was necessitated by the challenging terrain of the route.

Date opened: August 3 1875

Built for: Midland Railway

Current status: Open


Royal Albert Bridge

My favourite structure on Britain’s railway is Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge over the River Tamar, which connecting Devon and Cornwall. The river is 340 metres wide and the Admiralty insisted on a 30-metre clearance above high tide, resulting in this wonderful design of two iron trusses and a central pier which, with approach spans, gives a total bridge-length of 666 metres.

The curve approaching the bridge on the Cornish side affords an excellent view. In a wonderful under-statement to his genius, each end has the simple phrase ‘I.K. BRUNEL, ENGINEER, 1859’ added.

I remember it before the parallel road suspension bridge was opened in 1959, which slightly detracted from its grandeur. The Plymouth-Waterloo railway passed underneath (now just to Gunnislake).

Barry Doe, RAIL Fares and Services Expert


Royal Border Bridge

Okay, so the real border between England and Scotland is a few miles to the north but crossing the 28 arches of the Royal Border Bridge does make you feel as though it’s living up to its name.

From the south, there’s a sense of occasion and one of history too, as you cross the curving brick structure that steps gracefully over the River Tweed. Berwick-upon-Tweed station, in the shadows of Berwick reminds you that this landscape was disputed territory in times past - you could almost imagine the English and Scots armies facing each other on the banks of the estuary!

It’s a beautiful structure too – stone and brick rising 120ft above the water – giving unparalleled views of the picturesque little town below. It’s a culmination of the journey of the dramatic Northumberland coast – and a foretaste of Scotland’s scenic splendour to come.

Date open: July 1850

Built for: York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway

Current use: Open


Settle-Carlisle Line

The Settle & Carlisle is one of the most iconic stretches of railway in the UK. It runs for 72 miles through some of Britain's most spectacular scenery and vital statistics are impressive. There are 21 viaducts, 14 tunnels and a ruling grade of 1-in-100 over much of the line.

Yet the railway has a darker side: Over 200 men were killed during its construction, the 'Long Drag' from Settle to the summit at Ais Gill took its toll on engines and crew, and the job of signalman at Blea Moor - a mile or so from the nearest road - in the middle of winter has to be one of the most unenviable on the railways.

This is a line that should never have been built: it was only the Midland Railway's desperation to have its own route from London to Scotland that forced a railway through here, after the West and East Coast Main Lines had already been completed. The closure attempt of the 1980s followed the harsh rationalisation period of the late 1960s but millions of pounds have been spent upgrading track and stations, its future seems assured.

The 'S&C' makes you respect the physical effort that went into building a railway. The navvies’ pick-axes must have seemed like toothpicks against the vast grandeur of the moors.

Date opened: 1875 (1876 for passengers)

Built for: Midland Railway

Current status: Open


Severn Tunnel

A spoof article appeared in the national press during the Railway Mania that talked of a railway that would cross Loch Ness on a huge viaduct before tunnelling under Ben Nevis. it was, of course, rubbish but did reflect what seemed to be happening - no natural feature couldn’t be tamed by the railway builders. 

The River Severn has always been a natural barrier. It’s big and it’s tidal and trains had to go a long way to get around it. You couldn’t bridge it… but what about going under it?

Brunel’s spirit was still strong in the GWR in 1873 when work started. There was no Brunel ornamentation though, just 13 years of hard graft to create not only a more direct route from London to South Wales but, for over 100 years, Britain’s longest railway tunnel.

Date opened: December 1 1886

Build for: Great Western Railway

Current use: Open


Snowdon Mountain Railway

Nothing beats the thrill of standing by a trig point, gazing at the view around you whilst still enjoying the rush of knowing that you and you alone powered your way to the top of the mountain. But what’s better is a trig point with a railway station a few yards away.  

Tourism and sightseeing blossomed in the 19th century as ‘enjoying the view’ became the in thing to do. The Assheton-Smiths, whose Vaynol estate extended to Mount Snowdon, initially resisted calls to build a railway to Britain’s second highest peak. They relented and, after a slightly shaky start, the Snowdon Mountain Railway has carried thousands of passengers to Snowdon summit ever since. Some walkers will undoubtedly call this cheating, but enjoying the volcanic thrash from trains attacking the ruling 1-in-7 gradient is something to behold.

Date opened: April 6 1896

Built for: Snowdon Mountain Railway

Current status: Open


St Pancras International station

It has to be St Pancras International! If I look that good when I’m 150, I will be delighted.

I love St Pancras because it has a unique history. It provides a great experience for rail users and visitors and has shown that the past and new world can rub along together quite nicely.

From that wonderful Barlow roof to the history based in beer, the pianos, the art and the employees who work there daily, St Pancras really has something for everyone.

Finally, there aren’t many railway buildings that feature on Trip Advisor. But St Pancras does and this just goes to show the huge amount of interest and passion that it generates.

You don’t have to be an engineer, artist or train spotter – St Pancras caters for everyone. 

Dyan Crowther, CEO, HS1 Ltd


Stockport Viaduct

Stockport, where I grew up, is not defined by its beauty. Its new leisure complex has just won the dubious honour of the Carbuncle Cup, Britain’s ugliest building, and its 1960s shopping centre has little to recommend it. 

Yet the soaring magnificence of its railway viaduct lifts the landscape and reminds us how railways can be both industrial and aesthetic. Built in 1840 by civil engineer George Watson Buck, Stockport viaduct was the largest in the world at the time of its construction and remains one of the biggest brick-built structures in the country. It spans some 550m, crossing the River Mersey and more latterly the M60 motorway, and even has a former cotton mill tucked in between its arches, a stark reminder of its heritage. 

It’s always inspired artists and authors and continues to do so today. Elizabeth Gaskell mentions it in her novel North and South and LS Lowry was haunted by it, incorporating the structure in many of his works, including his famous 1955 composition Industrial Landscape. Today, contemporary artists such as Helen Clapcott and Eamonn Murphy follow his example, placing the viaduct in their own modern telling, and bringing fresh eyes to this very Victorian construction. 

The thousands of passengers who cross the valley every day may never notice its glory, but its engineering triumph and its iconography surely place it as a one of the Wonders of the Railway.

Maggie Simpson, Executive Director, Rail Freight Group


Thames Tunnel

Everything about this structure is special. For a start, it’s the world’s first tunnel under navigable water. It was also the first tunnel to combine the use of caissons (a previously theoretical method to dig down safely) with the tunnelling shield, a system which forms the basis of all tunnelling since. Oh, it also launched the career of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Although its intended use as a foot tunnel didn’t pan out, the Thames Tunnel still performs a valuable function as a railway tunnel. It’s passed through various operators and is now part of the London Overground network, transporting hundreds of commuters from one bank of the River Thames to another safely.

Date opened: March 25 1843

Built for: Private enterprise

Current use: Open, for London Overground


Totley Tunnel

The natural barrier of the Pennines resulted in some pretty spectacular stretches of railway and some epic civil engineering features. The Settle & Carlisle and the Woodhead Route are perfect examples of the trans-Pennine railway. The Hope Valley Line is the forgotten trans-Pennine route and yet boasts one feature that knocks Woodhead or Blea Moor into a cocked hat.

Totley Tunnel, on the edge of Sheffield, is over 3 1/2miles long. it took five years to build, is lined with some 30 million bricks and over 150 tons of gelignite were used to blast through the rock. The navvies suffered considerable hardship during its construction, but Britain’s fourth longest railway tunnel is fitting tribute to their toils.

Date opened: 1893

Built for: Sheffield & Midland Railway Companies’ Committee

Current status: Open


Tottenham Court Road station 

Tottenham Court Road is already one of London’s busiest Underground stations and is expected to accommodate 200,000 passengers per day when it becomes a key interchange station with Crossrail. The structural glass entrance plazas will become a signature landmark for London.

The deep station work that preceded much of the Crossrail work meant that technical innovations and lessons learned here have subsequently been employed across the whole of Crossrail.

What sets Tottenham Court Road station above other stations is the combination of new and old artwork throughout. At concourse level, Daniel Buren’s artwork guides station users subliminally to the exits and entrances, and in the tunnels and passageways over 95% of the classic artwork from Eduardo Paolozzi has been painstakingly removed, restored and, where necessary, replicated. The location, complexity and future importance of this station certainly makes it a wonder of the rail industry.

Date opened: July 30 1900

Built for: Central London Railway

Current status: Open


Victoria Bridge

The world’s first cast iron bridge was built across the River Severn in Coalbrookdale in 1781. Ideally, this pioneering structure would deserve a place on these pages except that, seeing as it pre-dated rail travel, it’s never had a train across it.

So, we bring you the Victoria Bridge instead. Designed by noted engineer Sir John Fowler, this graceful bridge spans the River Severn and key components were produced by the Coalbrookdale Company, a descendent from Abraham Darby’s original furnace.

It may not have the history of the Iron Bridge but it’s a beautiful structure and gives today’s Severn Valley Railway a glorious photographic vantage point.

Date opened: February 1 1862

Built for: Severn Valley Railway Co

Current status: Open


West Coast Main Line

Nigel Gresley designed streamlined ‘racehorses’ for the East Coast Main Line whereas his West Coast contemporary William Stanier not only had to design locomotives to go fast but powerful enough to maintain that speed over the fearsome gradients of Shap and Beattock.

It feels as though every mile of the West Coast Main Line is special. Shap and Beattock are stunning locations whereas the London-Birmingham stretch is steeped in history. This was built by the Grand Junction Railway, the world’s first trunk line and Euston was London’s first big terminus. That epic masonry monolith, the Euston arch – set the template for all grand city termini the world over.

Date opened: 1849

Built for: N/a

Current status: Open

West Highland Railway Extension

There aren’t enough words in the English language to fully describe a journey from Fort William to Mallaig. It truly is an icon of scenic beauty, from past the deepest loch in Scotland (Loch Morar), through the most westerly station in the UK (Arisaig) and the foothills of Ben Nevis. This is a sublime part of the world.

What makes the Mallaig Extension though is how the railway builders tamed this wild landscape with mass concrete, the most enduring memorial to this new technology being Glenfinnan viaduct, another railway structure that deserves the term ‘iconic’.

It’s amazing that thanks to a student wizard in a blue Ford Anglia, the Mallaig Extension is now one of the most famous railways in the world and has made it much more of a success as a tourist attraction than as a way to get fish to market. Couple that with the only railway on the national network where steam trains pass on an almost daily basis and the Mallaig Extension really owes its place as one of the world’s great railway journeys.

Date opened: April 1 1901

Built for: West Highland Railway

Current status: Open

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  • Bob Lunnon - 22/10/2018 16:46

    Vote for Meldon Viaduct

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    • Sam Green - 12/11/2018 12:12

      No it has to be Harringworth shirley?

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  • Robert Taggart - 23/10/2018 12:06

    Whatever happened to Liverpool Lime Street? - both the fine terminus (Hotel and Overall Roofs) AND the impressive cutting leading to it? Guessing we can always walk alone - it is surely a standalone monument!

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  • DOUG CARMICHAEL - 25/10/2018 12:35


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    • Sam Green - 12/11/2018 12:10

      Mallaig should be come a unesco world heritage sight!!!!? No I think it should be Skegness!!!!

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  • AndrewJG8918 - 27/10/2018 00:21

    Ordsall Chord in Manchester is what I voted.

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    • Paul O'Donnell - 04/11/2018 16:46

      And because they never did any work at Piccadilly, it is a very expensive folly. It has not done what it said it would do, there is still no capacity on the network, and to think they cut the end off the very first line of the network for this....

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    • Sam Green - 12/11/2018 12:16

      Yes because it was a WONDER it ever got approved or built given todays anti rail Government.It nearly became a bigger fiasco than Crossrail;

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  • David Munroe - 27/10/2018 12:46

    For myself it just has to be the Channel Tunnel. The project was drawn up, and actioned, in the days when we had a government who cared about the good of the country. This lot care only about protecting their tax evasion and avoidance. The Channel Tunnel was a project that looked forward, promised hope and vision of co-operation. I still have the VHS of every broadcast made at the time, including the historic breakthrough from the French side and the workers being the first to meet, not the politicians who kept well clear of the dirty bit. A fantastic project, one that I really hope will not be destroyed post-Brexit. Vote for the Channel Tunnel. If it is not in the Seven Wonders then it will just show what a tiny-minded population these islands now have.

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  • Stuart Anderson - 28/10/2018 06:41

    I have voted for the West Highland Railway Extension (Fort William to Mallaig) for my entry to the Seven Wonders of the Railway World

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  • Paul O'Donnell - 28/10/2018 20:46

    Torn, as I am beholden to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, because this is the progenitor for everything that followed. After years of development from Richard Trevithick to the Stockton and Darlington, the L&MR was the one to get it right. Passenger stations, locomotive power all along the line, Proper passenger carriages. It all started here. However, i do love the Dawlish costal run ;-)

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