The Bridge to the Future Appeal aims to re-build around 500 metres of missing track, which would connect the two halves of the Great Central Railway in the Midlands to create one, continuous 18 mile heritage railway. They need to raise £1 million by 2015 in order for this to happen.
The two halves are preserved sections of what was once the Great Central Main Line. Completed in 1899, this was the newest main line railway in the UK, until High Speed 1 opened in 2003. It connected London’s Marylebone station with Manchester Piccadilly, and was built to the continental loading gauge, which would have allowed taller and wider trains as used in mainland Europe to run on it.
Sadly, the line was earmarked for closure in the 1960s, under the Beeching Axe, as it was seen as duplicating the Midland Main Line which served a number of the same towns and cities. Parts of the line remain in use for revenue train services, but most of it has been closed and the track lifted.
The two surviving sections in the Midlands are the Great Central Railway – Nottingham, which runs from the south of Nottingham to Loughborough, and the Great Central Railway – Loughborough, which runs from Loughborough to the north of Leicester. This second section is the only heritage railway in the UK with a significant section of double track, and is the only one allowed to operate trains above 25 miles per hour – up to 60 miles per hour for some test trains.
500 metres – a little over a quarter of a mile – separates the two lines. Re-connecting the two isn’t as simple as laying new track, as the missing link will need to cross a canal, a road and the Midland Mail Line. The canal bridge survived, but new bridges are required to cross the road and railway, and embankments need to be re-instated.
Network Rail have, very kindly, agreed to provide the decks for the two new bridges. They’re not new, but second-hand, and until recently were in use near Reading. Reading station, and the surrounding track, is being substantially altered and rebuilt, which includes some bridge replacements. So, the old bridges were taken away and are being kept for use in this project.
Installing the bridges, however, will cost money, as it will be necessary to close the Midland Main Line for at least as short while to get the bridge in place; abutments and foundations will also need to be built. And there’s a deadline of mid-2015; Network Rail plan to erect overhead electric cables on the Midland Main Line in the near future and so the bridge must go in before then. To wait until afterwards would make the project considerably more expensive, and may result in it never happening.
So, there’s a need to raise £1 million to get the bridge installed. There will be more work to do afterwards – namely installing the road bridge and building up the embankments – but the railway bridge is the biggest part.
Linking the two lines together will provide major benefits to the area. It will become Britain’s longest preserved railway, boosting tourism to the area and providing more opportunities for railtours. It will also allow for more training and apprenticeships to take place away from Network Rail’s main lines, and could be used for testing new trains.
Over £100,000 has already been raised – around 10% of the total needed, but there’s still a long way to go. I coughed up some money yesterday. Hopefully you will do too.