Re-engineering a Victorian artery

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.

Heading towards Leicester, an ex-GWR steam locomotive approaches Quorn & Woodhouse station on the Great Central Railway.
Heading towards Leicester, an ex-GWR steam locomotive approaches Quorn & Woodhouse station on the Great Central Railway.

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 project, entitled 'Bridge to the Future,' aims to reinstate the missing 500 metre rail link between the two railways by:

  • Building a single span bridge across the Midland Mainline, south of the existing Loughborough Network Rail station.
  • Reinstating an embankment, but with a new alignment.
  • Erecting a bridge across Railway Terrace and Preci Spark car park.
  • Refurbishing and making good the Grand Union canal crossing to the north of Loughborough Central station.
  • Refurbishing a bridge over the A60 Loughborough to Nottingham road.

Although construction work has not yet begun on the bridge, a revised design has meant amendments to the existing planning permissions but ground and bridge surveys have been completed along the proposed route.

Soil samples were taken at various locations from the A60 bridge Loughborough to Nottingham road to the canal embankment stub. With the new embankment alignment determined, GCR's civil engineering consultants FJD have been able to take ground survey data and complete the design work enabling the drawing up of tender documents for the design of the main embankment.

3D graphics of every structure have been produced using the source survey data with the design layouts. A CAD model has been produced for integrated design, clash detection and construction sequencing. The model will also then be used to produce fly through viewing, montage production for planning submissions, and construction sequence briefing.

Two bridge decks from Caversham Road, Reading made redundant by the Network Rail re-modelling of Reading station were donated by Network Rail for the GCR's Reunification project across the Midland Main Line (MML). However due to the delay in the electrification of MML and the revision of the bridge specification to a single span bridge across MML; the donated bridges will be adapted for use across Railway Terrace and Preci Spark car park.

Survey work the Grand Union canal bridge has been completed by XIEAD, a specialist civil engineering consultancy. XEIAD sponsored the survey of the canal bridge providing two of its engineers for two days' work which would have otherwise cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Earlier in the year GCR, in association with the Leicestershire Education Business Company (LEBC), used the project as an opportunity to engage local students in STEM activities with an 8 week programme which culminated in an event at Loughborough University. The project engaged Year 8 students in teamwork, aspects of design and build of railway themed structures; including environmental factors, public relations with workshops lead by practicing industrial experts.

The students chose which groups they would work in working alongside ambassadors from Network Rail, AMCO, NLG, Carillion, Murphy's and GCR. Other pre-19 involvement has included: site visits to GCR, historic talks, visiting engineers and careers talks from Network Rail.

Such was the success of the project that it is planned to be repeated in the summer of 2016 but will be to open a wider audience to include students from Leicester. ICE East Midlands' Regional Education Team will be involved in the planning and delivery of the event to inspire pre-19 students in to careers in engineering.

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 estimated cost for bridging the gap is £8 million. GCR supporters have donated just 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 North (GCRN, Ruddington) with the northern section retaining its link to the Midland Mainline at Loughborough.

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