by Phil Marsh

Great Central Railway obtains planning permission and a £1million grant

Published: 12th August 2014

Great Central Railway’s ‘bridge the gap’ project brings reunification closer

A £1million award from the Government's 'Local Growth Deal' has significantly reduced the funding needed to achieve the dream of creating an 18-mile heritage railway in the East Midlands by linking the Loughborough - Leicester North Great Central Railway with the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) north of Loughborough through to the latter’s base at the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre at Ruddington. The money is part of an £80m allocation to the Leicester and Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership.

The £1million will cover elements of the total project encompassing construction of a new Railway Terrace bridge, repairs to the canal bridge and a new 330 yard embankment.

Building the big bridge

Central to linking the two existing heritage lines is construction of a replacement bridge over the Midland main line utilising a window of opportunity presented by NR’s electrification of the main lines. To achieve this element of the total project the railways launched a £1million ‘Bridge to the Future’ appeal in June 2013.

This appeal, dedicated to financing the bridge over the main lines, has already passed the halfway mark and the GCR and GCR (Nottingham) are confident the appeal will achieve its target by summer 2015. The bridge is a few hundred metres south of Loughborough main line station and the abutments of the original bridge still exist and the former trackbed is used as a car park today.

Permission granted

While significant strides forward are being made in raising the finance, further good news came in July when Charnwood Borough Council granted planning permission to construct the bridge. The structure, utilising girder spans recovered from Reading and already on-site at Loughborough, is being designed by Network Rail.

Funding ‘gap’ is closing

A project once viewed by many as an impossible dream has moved to the status of when it will be achieved rather than if. A feasibility study several years ago estimated the total project cost at £10million. This tumbled downwards when the opportunity of undertaking bridge construction in conjunction with Network Rail’s electrification of the four-track section of the St Pancras-Sheffield line arose.

With the revised costing for the total project (bridge and works to complete the link-up to the new structure) being around £6million-£6.5million the reunification dream is getting considerably closer to being achieved in the foreseeable future. The newly-announced £1million 'Local Growth Deal' award and likelihood of another £1million from the dedicated bridge appeal being in the bank by this time next year means the remaining funding ‘gap’ to be filled now looks to be around the £4million-4.5million mark.

Officials are talking of reinstatement of the missing 500 metres of track between the two existing lines being completed to enable trains to run between the north of Leicester and the southern outskirts of Nottingham within five years.

Sheds, workshops, new track and neighbours

The former GCR trackbed runs through the main workshops and running shed of the GCR and will be reinstated alongside the shed and onto the new bridge across the main line. There have been complaints by near neighbours about the steam facility from people that bought new-build houses adjacent to the railway. Presumably these neighbours should understand that the railway had been there long before the houses were built so in reality, what right do they have to complain?

They said:

“We are delighted by the £1million award,” commented GCR managing director, Bill Ford. “Thanks to the generous support of Network Rail and the public we've been able to make a start on this long held vision with our 'Bridge to the Future' campaign.

Now, the government has come on board too, which will accelerate our plans to reunite the railways. Once complete, as well as becoming one of the best tourist attractions in the UK, GCR will offer improved testing facilities for the rail industry, opportunities for joint business ventures and bring a much needed boost to the local economy.”

"Local Growth Deals are part of the Government's aim to devolve funding decisions away from Whitehall to local business-led partnerships and directly into projects which will make a real difference to the local economy,” said Loughborough MP, Nicky Morgan. “GCR are working closely with Network Rail and various local partners on one of Loughborough's most exciting regeneration projects. An 18-mile heritage railway line, with a direct connection to the mainline rail network will create jobs and unlock further investment opportunities not just in the town but across the whole of Leicestershire."

“Momentum is building to bring the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) together with our counterparts in Leicestershire to create something unique that the region and country can be proud of,” added GCR(N) director, Alan Kemp.

Money still needed

The GCR stresses it is vital for donations to continue flowing to its 'Bridge to the Future' appeal. Details about the reunification project and how to donate to the ‘Bridge to the Future’ project can be viewed at www.gcrailway.co.uk/unify.

As an alternative to donating online, contributions can be made with a cheque payable to ‘The David Clark Railway Trust’ sent to the GCR HQ at ‘Bridge Appeal’, Lovatt House, 3 Wharncliffe Road, Loughborough, Leics, LE11 1SL.

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