Published: 28th March 2016
Physical work has commenced towards construction of a new bridge over the four tracks of the Midland Line at Loughborough. The new bridge will be the crucial element of a chain of infrastructure ultimately creating an 18-mile heritage railway between Leicester and Nottingham by unifying two existing heritage lines, the Great Central Railway (GCR) and the Great Central Railway (Nottingham).
The GCR operates between Loughborough and Leicester North, the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) runs from north of Loughborough through to Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre at Ruddington.
The reunification project is undoubtedly one of the biggest railway preservation schemes ever undertaken in the UK. After three years of planning and fundraising an official ‘turning of the first sod' ceremony was performed by Nicky Morgan, MP (Loughborough) on February 12. Machines were in action on-site in early March clearing vegetation and constructing a site compound.
The new single-span bridge will be just over 30metres in length and carry a single track of the Great Central heritage line over the Derby - London St. Pancras main line. Planning permission for the bridge was obtained in 2014.
The GCR Nottingham section has a main line connection just south of Loughborough Main line station so once the two GCR sections are joined, this will further boost the preserved line.
A decade ago, a West Coast Main Line GCR landmark was removed. This was the girder bridge just south of Rugby station which carried the GCR over the main line and it was removed because of the WCML upgrade.
Joined by local school children who have been studying railway and bridge design as part of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) curriculum project, Nicky Morgan MP said, "I am delighted to be asked to formally inaugurate the building work for the reunification of the Great Central Railway. Joining the two halves of the Great Central will place Loughborough at the centre point of an 18-mile heritage line, attracting more visitors and bringing new jobs and investment to Loughborough as well as the wider East Midlands economy."
"This is a very exciting moment," commented Bill Ford, Great Central Railway Managing Director. "We have cherished this vision for decades, so to finally make a start on the ground is very important for us. So many people around the world and in the local community have donated money which has given the project life. The start of work is a tribute to their faith. We know they'll be watching as the work progresses!"
“This moment marks the first page of a whole new chapter in the story of both the GCR and GCRN and for everyone who has been involved in reunification project over the years,” observed GCR(N) Director Phil Stanway. “To finally see something that for years was nothing more than a vision finally becoming a reality is testament to everyone who has helped in any way, however large or small by donating money, time or expertise to get us to where we are today.”
The project was originally to be managed by Network Rail as part of the electrification of the Midland Main Line. The electrification was ‘paused’ last year, meaning the bridge could not be installed in late 2015 as had been anticipated, but Network Rail and the Great Central re-iterated their joint commitment to complete the work, albeit to an amended timescale http://www.rail.co.uk/rail-news/2015/electrification-hiatus-will-delay-bridging-gcr/ . The Great Central Railway will now drive the project forward itself, with Network Rail providing support.
In addition to the bridge, reconnecting the two railways involves reinstating an embankment and repairing other surviving bridges to close the 500metre ‘gap’ currently separating them. GCR is preparing to submit a planning application for these works, which will proceed as funding permits.
A public appeal has raised over £1million, with a further £1million granted by the Leicester and Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership towards other elements of the scheme. The complete unified railway could be open within five years, tying in with the new Heritage Lottery funded railway museum which is to be developed at Leicester North, the southern terminus.
To donate to the ‘Bridge to the Future’ appeal (an appeal leaflet can be downloaded at http://www.gcrailway.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Revised-appeal-leaflet.pdf ) cheques made payable to the David Clarke Railway Trust can be sent to 'Bridge appeal', Lovatt House, 3 Wharncliffe Road, Loughborough, Leics, LE11 1SL