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Isambard Kingdom Brunel IELTS Reading Academic

Isambard Kingdom Brunel IELTS Reading Academic Passage with Answers

Reading Passage 1

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was born on 9 April 1806 in Portsmouth. His father Mark was a French engineer who had fled France during the Revolution. Brunel was educated both in England and in France. When he returned to England he went to work for his father. Brunel’s first notable achievement was the part he played with his father in planning the Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping completed in 1843. In 1831 Brunel’s designs won the competition for the Clifton Suspension Bridge across the River Avon. Construction began the same year but it was not completed until 1864.

The work for which Brunel is probably best remembered is his construction of a network of tunnels, bridges and viaducts for the Great Western Railway. In 1833, he was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway, one of the wonders of Victorian Britain, running from London to Bristol and later Exeter. At that time, Brunel made two controversial decisions: to use a broad gauge of 2,140 mm for the track, which he believed would offer superior running at high speeds; and to take a route that passed north of the Marlborough Downs, an area with no significant towns, though it offered potential connections to Oxford and Gloucester and then to follow the Thames Valley into London.

His decision to use board gauge for the line was controversial in that almost all British railways to date had used standard gauge. Brunel said that this was nothing more than a carry-over from the mine railways that George Stephenson had worked on prior to making the world’s first passenger railway. Brunel worked out through mathematics and a series of trials that his broader gauge was the optimum railway size for providing stability and a comfortable ride to passengers, in addition to allowing for bigger carriages and more freight capacity. ielts-reading.com

He surveyed the entire length of the route between London and Bristol himself. Drawing on his experience, the Great Western contained a series of impressive achievements – soaring viaducts, specially designed stations, and vast tunnels including the famous Box Tunnel, which was the longest railway tunnel in the world at that time.

Many difficulties were met with and overcome. The Brent Valley, the Thames at Maidenhead and the hill at Sonning between Twyford and Reading had to be crossed on the stretch of track that was to be laid from London to Reading. Brent Valley was crossed by a 960 ft. long viaduct, costing £40,000. Where the railway had to cross the Thames, Brunel built a brick bridge with two main spans of 128 ft. with a rise of only 2412 ft., and the elliptical spans of Maidenhead Bridge are probably the most remarkable over constructed in brickwork. The high ground between Twyford and Reading necessitated a two-mines cutting, sometimes of 60 ft. in depth.

Brunel’s solo engineering feats also started with bridges. And he perhaps best remembered for the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Spanning over 700 ft. (213m), and nominally 200 ft. (61m) above the River Avon, it had the longest span of any bridge in the world at the time of construction. Brunel submitted four designs to a committee headed by Thomas Telford and gained approval to commence with the project. Afterwards, Brunel wrote to his brother-in-law, the politician Benjamin Hawes: “Of all the wonderful feats I have performed, since I have been in this part of the world, I think yesterday I performed the most wonderful.

I produced unanimity among 15 men who were all quarrelling about that most ticklish subject –taste.” He did not live to see it built, although his colleagues and admires at the Institution of Civil Engineers felt the bridge would be a fitting memorial, and started to raise new funds and to amend the design. Work started in 1862 and was completed in 1864, five years after Brunel’s death.

Even before the Great Western Railway was opened, Brunel was moving on to his next project: transatlantic shipping. He used his prestige to convince his railway company employers to build the Great Western, at the time by far the largest steamship in the world, and the much longer the Great Eastern, fitted out with the most luxurious appointments and capable of carrying over 4,000 passengers.

The Great Eastern was designed to be able to cruise under her own power nonstop from London to Sydney and back since engineers of the time were under the misapprehension that Australia had no coal reserves, and she remained the largest ship built until the turn of the century. Like many of Brunel’s ambitious projects, the ship soon ran over budget and behind schedule in the face of a series of momentous technical problems. She has been portrayed as a white elephant, but it can be argued that in this case Brunel’s failure was principally one of economics – his ships were simply years ahead of their time.

His vision and engineering innovations made the building of large-scale, screw-driven, all-metal steamships a practical reality, but the prevailing economic and industrial conditions meant that it would be several decades before transoceanic steam-ship travel emerged as a viable industry. Great Eastern was built at John Scott Russell’s Napier Yard in London, and after two trial trips in 1859, set forth on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 17 June 1860.

Though a failure at her original purpose of passenger travel, she eventually found a role as an oceanic telegraph cable layer, and the Great Eastern remains one of the most important vessels in the history of shipbuilding – the Trans – Atlantic cable had been laid, which meant that Europe and America now had a telecommunications link.

Brunel died at the relatively early age of fifty-seven, had led a charmed life, for on several occasions his life was in danger. In 1838, while aboard the steamer Great Western, he fell down a ladder, and was found unconscious with his face in a pool of water. Twice he was nearly killed on the Great Western Railway; and he had yet another escape when he swallowed a half-sovereign which, after being six weeks in his windpipe, was at last extracted by means of an apparatus designed by the engineer himself. The patient was attached to an enlarged edition of a looking-glass frame and then the frame and the patient quickly inverted.

After several attempts the coin fell into his mouth. While his life was in danger, public excitement was intense, so high was his place in public estimation. IELTS-reading.com

Question 1-7
Classify the following statements with the corresponding project designed by Brunel.

C – Clifton Suspension Bridge
E – Great Eastern Steamship
W – Great Western Railway
T – Thames Tunnel

1. __________ adopted broader gauge for tracks than normal.
2. __________ had not been completed before the death of Brunel.
3. __________ started a telecommunications link between Europe and America by the laying an underseas cable.
4. __________ contained the longest railway tunnel in the world at that time.
5. __________ is believed to be the first famous architectural project Brunel took part in.
6. __________ was selected and modified from four of Brunel’s original designs.
7. __________ was compared to a white elephant.

Question 8-13
Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Before the Great Western Railway was opened, Brunel convinced his railway company employers to build the Great Western. The Great Eastern was planned to be outfitted with the capability of carrying  8__________ , cruising to the destination of  9__________ without any breaks. The project was almost considered a failure due to its limited  10__________ and postponed  11__________ due to technological difficulties. Despite transoceanic travel was undeveloped and had not been considered as a viable industry, Brunel’s innovation made the outdated steamships a  12__________ . And even the original concept of passenger travel was not fully implemented, the Great Eastern played a role as an  13__________ connecting Europe with America.


Isambard Kingdom Brunel IELTS Reading Answers

1. W

2. C

3. E

4. W

5. T

6. C

7. E

8. OVER 4,000 PASSENGERS

9. SYDNEY

10. BUDGET

11. SCHEDULE

12. PRACTICAL REALITY

13. OCEAN TELEGRAPH CABLE-LAYER

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