The heritage sector’s biggest obstacle overcome – Great Central’s Bridge to the Future ‘dream’ now a reality

SHORTLY before midnight on Saturday, September 2, a crowd of around 60 spectators and onlookers gathered on the slim footpath on the A60 Nottingham Road bridge over the Midland Main Line in Loughborough, in anticipation of a major spectacle.

The passing of Flying Scotsman, Tornado or Duchess of Sutherland below? Maybe a high-profile diesel charter? A surprise return to steam of Mallard?

West Coast Railways’ ‘The Scenic Carlisle Express II’ railtour from Bedford to Carlisle on September 6 may have been the first train comprising heritage stock, in this case the Carnforth operator’s maroon Mk1 rake, to pass beneath the new Great Central bridge. This leg of the charter was hauled by West Coast-liveried Class 57 No. 57315, representative of a class re-engineered from Class 47s at the nearby Brush works in Loughborough. ROBIN JONES

None of these. Tearing up the ‘rule book’ in terms of what might have been expected, the onlookers had assembled to watch a static and sizeable piece of railway infrastructure being installed.

And what a piece of infrastructure! It was no less than the first major components of the bridge which would remove what has long been regarded as the biggest obstacle in the heritage railway portfolio, and connect the Great Central Railway to its northern counterpart, the Great Central Railway (Nottingham).

The net result: the creation of a unique 18-mile inter-city railway, and the GCR’s first main line connection, over which incoming charters will be able to run to the planned major new museum at Leicester North.

This hugely symbolic first section of the GCR’s Bridging the Gap project cost £2.5 million and has taken several years of planning and fundraising.

As well as donations from GCR and GCR(N) members and supporters, it was funded by a £1m grant from the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership and £250,000 worth of shares bought by Leicestershire County Council.

Read more in Issue 233 of HR – on sale now!

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