Published: 5th November 2015
The restored Mountsorrel Railway opened to the public over October 24-25. The line, which branches from Leicestershire’s Great Central Railway at Swithland, once served the granite quarries around the village of Mountsorrel.
Restoration of the mile long railway commenced five years ago, inspired by the local community seeking to protect their heritage. The work has been undertaken entirely by volunteers from the local community and beyond. As it gained momentum the project attracted assistance from local businesses which donated time, materials and expertise.
"We started the project with no funding at all and looked at how the restoration of the railway could be achieved at minimal cost; the only answer was to do all the physical work ourselves, commented volunteer project leader, Steve Cramp. “From there we never looked back and set out using tools such as a restored 120 year old cross saw, traditional track laying tools and lots of hard graft. So many people have gotten behind the project and given their time and expertise to help; 80,000 hours of volunteer time have gone into the project to complete the restoration."
"So many companies have helped with the areas we just couldn't do ourselves,” Steve Cramp added. “In particular we would like to give our thanks to Tarmac who donated many thousands of tonnes of railway ballast and also digger time to help with track bed repairs and ballast laying."
"We are delighted to support such a worthwhile local cause and are delighted to see the opening of the railway," commented Tarmac Estates Manager, Tim Deal.
Tickets for the public opening, operated by top-and-tail steam locomotives, cost £5 for adults (£3 children). The opening weekend will be the only public operations on the branch this year. Dates for 2016 have yet to be announced.
Not content with restoring the railway, the group then set out to create a brand new railway station at Mountsorrel. "When the Mountsorrel Railway was built originally, it was always intended that Mountsorrel would have a station but that dream was never realised,” Steve Cramp explained. “That was something that we wanted to put right so that the public could ride the railway that we had restored.”
Thanks to a £66,000 grant from Tarmac's Landfill Community fund and more work by the volunteers, a station has been built at Bond Lane to serve the village. Plans for the future include opening a new Heritage Centre site adjacent to the line in early 2016.
The Mountsorrel Railway was an industrial line pre-dating the Great Central Railway. Championed by Earl Lanesborough, two lines were constructed to carry stone away from the granite quarries in the locality. One, built in 1860, ran to the Midland Railway main line at Barrow-upon-Soar. The other was opened in 1896 to Swithland and conveyed the ballast required during construction of the GCR.
The quarry branch to the GCR gradually fell out of use in the 1950’s and was largely lifted in 1959. The line to Barrow-upon-Soar was replaced by a conveyor system in 1976 thus removing the remaining railway system from Mountsorrel.
Events which have culminated in revival of the branch trace back to moves initiated by GCR-based Railway Vehicle Preservations Ltd, an organisation dedicated to preserving historic railway carriages, aimed at finding a site to build a shed to house its restored vehicles. Land to the north of the GCR main line near Swithland Sidings, where the old Mountsorrel branch met the GCR, appeared to offer a suitable location and in 2005 RVP secured a lease covering a three-quarter mile section of the trackbed of the long-lifted former Mountsorrel Railway.
Planning problems ultimately frustrated this use (RVP has subsequently built a shed on GCR land at Swithland) but in 2010 Steve Cramp approached RVP and GCR with a new proposal, revival of the branch as a community project.
As tracklaying progressed a diesel-worked train of hoppers for a ballast drop run on May 16 2011 became the first train over part of the branch since track was lifted in 1959. The first steam on the branch in the preservation era was GCR-based ‘Jinty’ No. 47406 hauling a rake of mineral wagons at the Swithland end during a November 17 2011 photo charter. The first passenger train on the branch, a private charter for volunteers who worked on restoring the line and RVP members, ran from Swithland as far as Nunckley Hill on November 23 2013 top-and-tailed by ‘Jinty’ No. 47406 and Class 08 08694 working five carriages from GCR's Pullman set.
Until the October 24-25 opening weekend the branch has chiefly only seen use for photo charters and freight demonstrations at the Swithland end during GCR gala events.