Will Leicester North herald a new golden age?

Impressed with the six shortlisted designs for the planned new £18 million station at the Great Central Railway’s Leicester North terminus that I was shown on the preview day, I am waiting in earnest for the line’s officials to pick a winner.

Ever since it was built, Leicester North has been a terminus at next to nowhere. You stand on the platform, waiting for your train locomotive to run round, and gaze wistfully at the truncated section of embankment on the far side of the bypass and dream of building several bridges that would once again allow services to run into the long-isolated Leicester Central station serving the city centre.

However, Leicester North’s position could now be its making. Its location on the A563 dual carriageway rather than in the heart of the city will make the new museum infinitely more accessible.

Five of those six plans include a turntable, which would be brought into use for incoming main line charter trains, once the GCR is reconnected to the national network via its northern counterpart the Great Central Railway (Nottingham). That in itself would be a major tourist boost for the area, but what about the trips that could start from Leicester North?

As it stands, the station is ideally placed not only near the hub of England’s motorway network but within easy striking distance of several major cities. As such it will have all the makings of a choice departure point for trips all over the country at any time of the year.

On October 1, Tornado builder and owner The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust announced a new and bold adventure not only to gain permission for the A1 to regularly run at 90mph over the national network, but to head its own dedicated rake of Mk.3 coaches aimed at greatly enhancing the passenger experience with more modern facilities on board.

While Tornado could be undertaking 90mph test runs in the spring, there is clearly much work to be done before the coaching rake scheme becomes reality. However, these guys have a first class ‘mission impossible’ track record of making ‘it will never happen’ happen, as evidenced by the building of No. 60163
in the first place.

So I am left to dream of the prospect of Tornado simmering at the head of its rake at Leicester North, as its passengers flock into what promises to be the most modern railway museum of its kind in Europe. Such is now the impetus for the museum scheme that a curator has been appointed in advance of the first brick being laid.

Nearly half a century after the end of BR steam on the main line, the public yearning for the primary traction of yesteryear shows no sign of abating, in fact anything but if the record numbers which turned out to see Flying Scotsman and Tornado at the Severn Valley Railway’s Pacific Power event are anything to go by.

Today, we have a truly awesome portfolio of heritage railways, but we have to remember if we want repeat facilities, the public must be impressed. It is no longer enough to take people to a venue and show them a steam engine running up and down: they want to feel at home in their surroundings. The GCR museum plans tick all the boxes, and the transformation of Leicester North cannot come too soon. Exciting possibilities await from every angle, and the whole sector can ultimately benefit from it.

Robin Jones, Editor

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