The GCR is currently Britain's only double track mainline heritage railway, with 5.25 miles (8.45 km) of working double track, period signalling, locomotives and rolling stock. It runs for 8.25 miles (13.28 km) in total from the large market town of Loughborough to a new terminus just north of Leicester.
Four stations are in operation, each restored to a period in the railway's commercial history: the 1950s Loughborough Central; Second World War and the remainder of the 1940s Quorn & Woodhouse; the Edwardian Era Rothley; the 1960s Leicester North.
|Great Central Railway|
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In 1897, the Great Central Railway itself was formed, becoming the last steam mainline in the United Kingdom. Two years later in 1899, "The London Extension" was officially opened to passenger and freight traffic, allowing more direct journeys from the capital to Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield and Manchester. The entire line was built to accommodate a European standard loading gauge and all but a few stations were single island platforms. This construction scheme was devised by chairman Sir Edward Watkin, who had envisioned his railway one day running through a channel tunnel to France, linking Britain with the continent.
However, this never came to fruition; indeed, the Beeching report which led to cutback and closure was published in 1963, some 31 years before the tunnel was fully constructed. In the report, the line was described as a duplicate of the Midland Main Line. Apart from the most southerly section into London, the line was closed as a through route in 1966 as part of the Beeching Axe, although a section of the line between Nottingham and Rugby remained open until 1969. The closure became one of Doctor Beeching's largest cutbacks. It was also famous for being one of the most controversial.
In the late 1960s, local groups who opposed the closure gathered together for a series of meetings at Leicester Central railway station and the Main Line Preservation Group (MLPG) was formed. There had been talk of restoring the entire closed line from Nottingham Arkwright Street to Rugby Central, but this was rationalised to a section from Ruddington to Leicester and later, because British Rail retained the single track between Loughborough and Ruddington for British Gypsum freight and access to the now-closed Ministry of Defence base, the group's plans focussed on the Loughborough to Leicester section. The published aim of MLPG was "to acquire a suitable length of main line, for the operation of steam hauled passenger trains, at realistic speeds". Work began on salvaging as much reusable material as possible for the project from the recent demolitions.
The MLPG received a lease on the station, buildings and most of the trackbed at Loughborough Central in 1970; this would become its base of operations. By the following year, negotiations into purchasing the rest of the remaining railway had proven successful and the group was able to buy it for a mere £75,000 (£956,041 in 2015),. The rest of the Loughborough yard complex was secured in 1972. In the same year, the first coaching stock arrived on site. The first open day occurred in 1973, shortly after the arrival of working motive power. Passengers were offered simple wagon or coach rides run by small industrial locomotives. On 30 September 1973, LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 No. 5231 hauled the first passenger train since the railway's commercial closure, to Quorn and back, but at the same time the down line was being lifted between Birstall and Quorn because of BR's increasing demands.
To purchase what was left of the track, the MLPG was re-merged into a supporting charity, the Main Line Steam Trust (MLST). The entire value of the eight miles (13 km) of up line was re-assessed by BR at £279,000 (£3,042,895 in 2015), and the MLST was now paying £3,300 a month (£32,719 in 2015), just to keep it. A deal was struck on 1 April 1976 that would see the remainder of the down line lifted if BR's cash demand was not raised. At that time, passenger trains were still running as far as Rothley, but, without an adequate supply of working mainline locomotives, the trust had to resort to using industrial tank engines working single track - some way short of the original vision of the MLPG seven years previously.
To purchase the land and track, Great Central Railway (1976) PLC issued shares, and the MLPG was transformed into the MLST, a charitable body, to support the company.
Charnwood Borough Council agreed to purchase the land from BR and lease it to the railway for 99 years. However, this still left GCR (1976) PLC the task of raising over £150,000 (£973,644 in 2015), to purchase the track. Ultimately, the target was not met and only a single track between Loughborough and Quorn could be afforded (BR allowed more time to raise funds to purchase Quorn to Rothley). The double track from Rothley to Belgrave & Birstall was lifted, along with the 'down' line from Loughborough to Rothley.
In the late 1980s, the intention was announced to extend the line back to Belgrave & Birstall. The former station had been vandalised and the Railway had no choice but to demolish the buildings. In 1990, a station called Leicester North was opened a hundred metres to the south of Belgrave & Birstall. This shift in location placed the new station inside Leicester's city boundary, allowing the 'Leicester' tag to be included in the name, along with unlocking extra funds to assist in the construction.
With the exception of the short section between Bewdley North and Bewdley South signal boxes on the Severn Valley Railway, the GCR is currently the only standard gauge heritage railway in the UK with double track outside of stations. However, there are other preserved lines that were previously double track.
In the 1990s, David Clarke[who?] approached the Railway about the possibility of double-tracking the line. As a signalling enthusiast, David aspired to operate a signal box on a double track main line, and so the campaign to raise funds to double the section between Quorn and Rothley was launched, with David himself providing a large amount of the capital.
Until signalling was complete, the second track was operated separately from the main track. This provided a unique opportunity for trains to 'race' each other between Quorn and Swithland.
After reaching Quorn, work moved ahead to extend the second track to Loughborough. The double track between Loughborough and Rothley opened on 1 June 2000. This gave additional capacity, which is especially useful at galas, where up to six trains may be in operation at any one time. This enables the running of non-passenger-carrying trains (freights, TPO set) during galas to a greater extent than any other heritage railway. It also means that the timetable can be generally adhered to, as delays do not cascade, as they do on single track lines.
Her Majesty's Rail Inspectorate has granted powers to run private test trains at up to 60 mph. Other special trains at public events run at up to 45 miles per hour (72.4 km/h). Typically, UK heritage railways are limited to a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour (40.2 km/h).
In 2004, a new signal box at Quorn opened, at that time the only preserved box in the UK with a double track on either side. With this new signal box, a train can, in theory, be dispatched from Loughborough every 10 minutes. A further signal box at Swithland Sidings has been fitted with Great Western Railway style signals, in the style of the GCR/GWR joint line via High Wycombe, allowing for a further capacity increase on the preserved GCR. The full Swithland project was completed in May 2012. On 5 December 2012, the GCR was awarded the NRHA Signalling Award for this long-running and complicated project.
Between the A60 and Loughborough locomotive shed is "The Gap", a section of embankment and bridges (including a large single span over the Midland Main Line) that need to be reinstated to join the two concerns together. That is a long term, expensive project and, in the meantime, there are plans to construct a new 'Loughborough Midland High Level' station on the embankment near the A60 road bridge. This would allow easy interchange between Midland Main Line trains and trains from the GCR(N) (and, if 'the Gap' is bridged, the Greater Great Central Railway (GGCR), as it is known almost universally by Great Central staff). On 12 February 2009, it was announced that the project would receive £350,000 for a feasibility study, Charnwood Borough Council having won a grant from the East Midlands Development Agency. The GCR is to contribute £100,000 to the study (combined cost of £450,000). If completed, the GCRN would merge with the GCR to create a single 18-mile (29 km) track which would also be rebuilt as a double-track line for most, if not the whole, of its length.
Latest engineering studies of 'the Gap' have produced a design for a single-track link (difficult to justify the additional cost for double-track) - previously proposing to utilize two, ex-Network Rail, single-track bridges (removed as part of the Reading Station upgrade), now to be utilized to bridge the Preci-Spark Car Park and Railway Terrace. The latest design proposes to re-instate the bridge over the Midland Main Line utilizing a new-build single span bridge, complying with electrification clearances for the recently announced electrification project. This will cost significantly more than the original proposal, but has the benefits of reduced future maintenance and access charges for the previously proposed central pillar. The additional cost is somewhat offset by the use of the 'Reading Bridges' at the locations mentioned. The replacement embankments to the north of the Canal bridge are proposed to use the latest construction techniques to provide a higher but narrower structure. Funding options are currently being reviewed for what may be the 'Greatest Heritage Railway Project' in the UK.
This is a project devised and financed by Railway Vehicle Preservations Limited. The projects aim is the rebuilding of the Mountsorrel branch off the Great Central railway at Swithland sidings to the working Mountsorrel quarry.
The branch is essentially intact but the track was lifted in the mid 1960s. The original purpose of the reinstatement was to provide a carriage shed to house the restored carriages of Railway Vehicle Preservations Ltd and shelter them from the elements. In 2006 they applied for planning permission for the shed; this was rejected due to badger setts discovered on site. The reinstatement of the line is going ahead with ballast being donated from the quarry it served. The total length being reinstated is 1.25 miles (2 km). It is intended a halt will be built at the quarry end, offering train rides up the line to add an extra attraction to the Great Central Railway, with services either run by a DMU or else a push-pull fitted steam/diesel locomotive. The line is now fully ballasted for half of its length with tracklaying well underway. Tracklaying has recently passed through the Wood Lane bridge and officially entered Mountsorrel Parish. The plans for the shed are being re-evaluated and a NEW Planning Application has been entered for a 4 road shed at the back of Swithland sidings On 4 February 2013 the ambitious plans were given conditional approval.
Recently Lafarge, (operators of the Mountsorrel Quarry) revealed a proposal for a stone loading terminal at the end of the Mountsorrel Railway. This was in response to a planning submission to build 300+ Houses near to the proposed Bond Lane Station, and was clearly aimed at Lafarge protecting the mineral extraction rights. The proposal would be dependent on the GCR 'Bridging the Gap' to GCRN. GCR then would build a north chord from the southern end of Swithland Viaduct to meet the existing track just at the end of the straight section of the Mountsorrel Railway. The proposal estimates that 3 loaded trains of 1000 tonnes would leave the proposed terminal every weekday and travel via the GCR to the Midland Main Line Connection.
Many filmmakers have taken advantage of the atmosphere of the Great Central and it has had many notable appearances in film and television.
The Great Central Railway has a reasonable running length with the added bonus of a mainline setup, and so some of Britain's largest locomotives have been there in recent years. The steam fleet currently comprises over a dozen mainline classes, many of them either heavy freight, express passenger or shunting tank engines. Some are of types that were preserved in abundance elsewhere, but others have been leased from the National Collection. On most days a green-liveried, two-car British Rail Class 101 DMU runs from Loughborough to Leicester. As well as running stock the railway also has a large collection of heritage rolling stock. Passenger stock is made up of three uniform rakes of British Rail Mark 1 coaches originally built in the 1950s and 60s. They are in Maroon, Carmine and Cream, and Southern Green liveries. BR Western Region Chocolate and Cream livered Mark 1 coaches will gradually enter service during 2014.
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Both the Great Central Railway PLC and the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) have a number of supporting bodies which are based at each individual line. The majority of these are locomotive or rolling stock groups, however there are a number of private owners who have based their stock or locomotives at the lines.
Main Line Steam Trust was established in 1969 as the Main Line Preservation Group, with the intention of preserving one of two potential sections of the line, one based at Lutterworth, running from Leicester to Rugby Central, and one based at Loughborough, running between Leicester and Nottingham. The Loughborough base was chosen and work began on restoring the station, an office was rented at street level at Loughborough Central station, and in 1971 Charitable Status was granted to MLPG, who changed their name to Main Line Steam Trust Limited.
Substantial monthly payments were required to keep the formation intact between Loughborough and Belgrave & Birstall, with steam hauled services operating from Loughborough Central to Quorn & Woodhouse Station, and eventually Rothley station. The money required to purchase the line south of Rothley was not available and only the Loughborough to Rothley section of line was preserved, with the aid of Charnwood Borough Council.
The operation and the assets were transferred to the Great Central Railway (1976) Ltd. and MLST took on the role of the charitable volunteer run support body for the railway. MLST has continued to support the Great Central Railway PLC (the 1976 was eventually dropped from the title), and the various organisations around the railway. It also supports the Great Central Railway (Nottingham).
MLST have funded a great deal at the Great Central Railway, including assistance in funding the double track, Leicester Station, Quorn & Woodhouse Signalling, Swithland Signalling, Loughborough South Remodelling, and has assisted in bringing in visiting locomotives for gala events on numerous occasions.
MLST has now been incorporated into The Friends of the Great Central Main Line (FoGCML), this with the David Clarke Railway Trust (DCRT) provide the volunteers and the funding. Outside commercial interests and individuals are able to donate toward various projects (Loughborough's 'Crystal Palace', Mountsorrel Railway, RVPS restorations etc.) to the DCRT, gaining valuable tax advantages.
The company made a profit during trading year ending 2007 of £62,000, the first genuine profit in 30 years as a visitor attraction.
Renaissance Railcars own the five Class 101 vehicles at the Great Central Railway PLC, at present only one set, known as "Set A" (affectionately also known as "The Green Goddess"), is in regular passenger use, however progress is being made on the other vehicles based at the line. A third 101 driving trailer unit is on standby should one of the other driving cars require mechanical attention.
They also own 59575 a 111 centre coach, and it is currently being restored, to be eventually worked with the "Green Goddess" or "Daisy".
Owners and carers of Bulleid Pacific locomotive 34039 Boscastle, which is undergoing a protracted overhaul due to take 3 years and £200,000+ of donated money.
Formed in 1985, the group owns BR standard class 5 No. 73156 which has been undergoing extensive restoration since arrival and numerous storage vans.
Loughborough Standard Locomotive Group, or LSLG, look after and part-own a number of locomotives. These are BR Standard 2MTs Nos.78018 & 78019, BR Standard 5MT No.73156, BR Standard 7P6F No.70013 "Oliver Cromwell" and LMS 2MT No.46521
At present No.78019 and No. 46521 are in running condition and can regularly be found operating passenger trains, and the other locomotives are making progress. No.70013 "Oliver Cromwell" is part of the national collection, owned by the National Railway Museum, and has been restored by both LSLG and the 5305 Locomotive Association. 'Cromwell' is running on both the GCR and Network Rail. LSLG also have in their care a Directors Saloon, coach no. M999504, which is on loan from EWS.
The 5305 Locomotive Association have a number of locomotives in their care, these are LMS "Black 5" No.45305 "Alderman A.E. Draper", SR King Arthur No.777 "Sir Lamiel", BR Class 33 D6535 "Hertfordshire Railtours", BR Standard 7P6F No.70013 "Oliver Cromwell", and BR Class 45 "Leicestershire And Derbyshire Yeomanry" Peak D123.
Nos.777, D6535 and 70013 are all part of the National Collection and are owned by the National Railway Museum. No.777 emerged from a lengthy overhaul in British Railways Brunswick green livery, under the BR number 30777 and has just been refinished in Southern Malachite Green with running number 777.
A diesel group who own and care for Class 20 D8098, Class 31 D5380 and Class 47 D1705.
Railway Vehicle Preservations Ltd, and their members, own the second largest collection of LNER coaches in preservation today. These include the famous LNER Travelling Post Office set, two LNER Beavertail observation saloon (including one in its rebuilt condition), and a number of "Gresley" teak-panel passenger coaches.
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