Hyde Park Now-The Crystal Palace Gliding Railway

The Crystal Palace Gliding Railway

Louis-Dominique Girard’s Gliding Railway (later called the Sliding Railway) was an unusual train whose origins began in the late 1860s as a test line in the grounds of Girard’s home near Paris. It is said Girard developed his patent from somewhat earlier attempts to build a train that skated on lubricated rails – a scheme which was viewed as “ridiculous and came to nothing.”

Despite a promising start thirty years later it did come to nothing.

Hyde Park Now-The Crystal Palace Gliding Railway
The Gliding Railway seen at Crystal Palace in 1891.

A greatly developed version of the gliding railway was built at the Esplanade des Invalides for the Universal International Exhibition of 1889 – the very same fair that introduced the Eiffel Tower.

Hyde Park Now-The Crystal Palace Gliding Railway
The Barre/Girard train listed with the Eiffel Tower – Annales Des Mines Mémoires (1889.)

Girard’s trains were the forerunner of monorail systems such as SKYTRAIN and MAGLEV.

The trains used skates kept wet with water – sometimes mixed with glycerine or even magnesium as this did not corrode the tracks. This increased the slippery rail surface and facilitated the train’s efficient passage. The leading control coach kept the slide shoes constantly sprayed with water. The trains themselves were propelled by means of water jets located in the base of the track. Eventual speeds of 200kph or 124mph were planned.

In 1869 the first proposed use for Girard’s system was mooted – a high speed line crossing the whole breadth of France between Calais and Marseilles.

Alas Girard lost his life at the age of 48 during the Franco-German war of 1871 which also destroyed his original demonstration line at Rueil Malmaison. His assistant Charles Barre continued the work. It is generally agreed Barre was a colleague of Girard’s however I have read claims that Barre was no assistant and in fact bought up Girard’s patents.
Hyde Park Now-The Crystal Palace Gliding Railway
Girard’s 1867 designs for a high speed passenger Gliding Train.

Barre continued the railway’s development and was responsible for the demonstration lines at Paris, Edinburgh and Crystal Palace. Prior to Edinburgh and Crystal Palace, Barre was invited by Sir Edward Watkin to build a 2 mile long demo line near the Watkin Tower. At the time of the Crystal Palace demonstration it was announced Barre would build a new line on gliding railway principles between Neasden and Forty Lane. Although plans were submitted for this little else is known of that project.

In 1889 Barre informed the world he hoped the gliding railway would form a 2 hour express line between London and Paris, including a tunnel under the channel and that his proposals would remove the many objections which had so far prevented a tunnel being built.

Little is known about the Crystal Palace train other than the view shown above. Its length was 164 yards and It ran during April 1891. Newspapers say it was an “amusing French invention” – clearly a fun train ride, nothing more. This is quite the opposite to those with an engineering or scientific view – that the railway had potentiality.

The railway stood on the upper terrace by the Crystal Palace’s south entrance and Barre wrote a guide commemorated specially for it.

Hyde Park Now-The Crystal Palace Gliding Railway
The train was originally built for the Universal International Exhibition in Paris.

Barre continued to seek avenues where the technology could be used, indeed going as far as building other abortive lines. He expended time and money trying to get the railway universally accepted as a high speed transit system. Nevertheless the Crystal Palace line was Barre’s last real success.

The next part – Barre’s Sliding Railway – investigates the Gliding Railway’s misfortunes after Crystal Palace.