Brunel University indirectly owes its name to the Great Western Railway, (GWR). When Acton Technical College was divided, there were plans to call the new college after an engineer or scientist with local connections. There were suggestions to name it after the 16th century Francis Bacon, but as Dr Topping pointed out at the time, Bacon could be an unfortunate name for a college specialising in sandwich courses. However, Isambard Kingdom Brunel had built the GWR through Acton in the 1830s, and his Wharncliffe viaduct at Hanwell was nearby, which gave an alternative. When the new Brunel University opened on its Uxbridge site in 1968, it had moved to another area with ties to the GWR.
In 1856 the GWR had built a railway line between Uxbridge Vine Street Station and West Drayton. It ran through what is now the campus, and a section of a railway cutting remains between the car park and Cleveland Road. There were 3 stations; one was Cowley, on the site of what is now Huxley Gardens. Although the line was closed in 1964 by Lord Beeching, (who later opened the new University,) it has left traces. At the junction of Cleveland Road and Station Road, the road rises to go across a now non-existent railway line. On campus, the railway cutting outside the Wilfred Brown building it was filled in, and a pond built on the site.
The section to the east of Cleveland Road was a nature reserve, but has now been closed off. One man with memories of the small branch line was Stephen L. Bragg, Vice Chancellor at Brunel from 1971 – 1981. He was fascinated by railways, and claimed to have passed through or visited most of the 10,000 stations that were in the British Isles, including Cowley. (He kept the ticket.) Bragg admired the railway historian Charles Clinker, who had built up a major collection of documents and artefacts, and after an exchange of letters they agreed that this would come to Brunel. The Clinker Collection is now a major part of the Library’s Transport History Collection. Because of Clinker’s connections with the West Country, it is especially detailed about the GWR. To the south of the pond, at the corner of the car park, there is another relic of the GWR. There is a section from a wrought iron girder from Brunel’s railway bridge over the River Wye at Chepstow, which was opened in 1852. This was presented by the Institution of Civil Engineers. On 1st January 1948, the GWR became the Western Region of British Rail. It has left a legacy throughout western England – including the campus at Brunel.