The first stage of the project to close the 500m gap is to stabilise and cut back an embankment to the south of Loughborough's Midland Mainline railway station in preparation for the construction of a new bridge parapet which will eventually support a new single track heritage railway connecting Ruddington (Nottingham) to Leicester (adjacent to the site of the proposed National Railway Museum outreach centre.)
Representatives from ICE, GCR Loughborough, GCR Nottingham, consulting engineers FJD, contractors ASB, Leicestershire Education Business Company, BBC East Midlands Today reporting team and industry ambassadors looked on as Bill Ford, Managing Director of GCR plc declared that the start of the project was a "very exciting moment."
He then added "We have cherished this vision for decades, so to finally make a start on the ground is very important for us."
Phil Stanway, Director & Company Secretary Great Central Railway – Nottingham said, "This moment marks the first page of a whole new chapter in the story of both the GCR & GCRN and for everyone who has been involved in reunification project over the years. 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."
Rt. Hon Nicky Morgan, MP for Loughborough, who broke the ground in the traditional way to mark the start of the work, said that it was fantastic to be part of a project that has been talked about for 40 years. "This is going to bring big benefits to our local area - more tourism, more visitors, more employees... I'm really excited to be a part of it."
Molly McKenzie, ICE East Midlands Regional Director said "This project is a great example of how our civil engineering heritage can combine with modern practices to bring benefits to today's communities. It is an exciting opportunity to showcase the diversity of civil engineering and inspire our next generation of engineers and we look forward to working with GCR and LEBC in doing so."
The two East Midlands' heritage railways are working together to re-unite two sections of one of the last great Victorian railways, the former Great Central Railway (GCR), to create an 18 mile railway which will deliver economic benefit, create jobs and be a tourist attraction.
The Great Central Railway opened to traffic in 1899 but closed following the Beeching Review in 1976. Two sections between Nottingham and Leicester were acquired by separate heritage railway groups but a section separating the two was removed by British rail shortly after closure.
The estimated cost for bridging the gap is £8 million. GCR supporters have donated over £1 million and an allocation from the Local Growth Fund grant of £1m from the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP).
In 1899 the line connecting London to the East Midlands and beyond was officially opened to passenger and freight traffic, allowing more direct journeys from the capital to Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield and Manchester. Sir Edward Watkin, the chairman of GCR, had envisioned his railway one day running under a Channel Tunnel to France, linking Britain with the continent!
Presently the two preserved sections are operated by volunteers and funded by charitable donations and fare paying visitors: Great Central Railway (GCR, Loughborough) and Great Central Railway Nottingham (GCRN, Ruddington) with the northern section retaining its link to the Midland Mainline at Loughborough.