|Great Central Railway|
The Great Central Railway (Nottingham) (formerly known as Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre) is a heritage railway and Transport Museum in Nottinghamshire. The route consists of approximately 10 miles of the former Great Central Main Line between Loughborough South Junction (with the Midland Main Line) and Fifty Steps Bridge, plus a branch line from Fifty Steps Bridge to the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre which is built on a former Ministry of Defence site.
There are currently stations at Ruddington Fields (within the main centre site) and at Rushcliffe Halt, but the GCR(N) aims to re-open the former station at East Leake in the future, and there are plans to build a high-level (interchange) station at Loughborough (as there is currently no platform there).
The railway is currently not connected to Great Central Railway (at Loughborough Central in Leicestershire), although there are plans to reunite the two preserved lines. This is a major engineering project that is expected to be completed in 2015. The line is used by gypsum trains to the British Gypsum works at East Leake.
At the same time as the Leicester extension was closed, the Ministry of Defence depot at Ruddington was also closed, so the four miles of track from East Leake to Ruddington were no longer needed by BR. It was also clear that British Gypsum were unlikely to bring in any more materials by rail. The GCR Northern Development Association was formed. Work initially concentrated on restoring Rushcliffe Halt, but when Rushcliffe Borough Council agreed to lease part of the former MOD site to the Association, the grand scheme of the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre was devised to encompass not only railway preservation but any transport heritage relevant to the area.
In the 1990s, work on what had become the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) Ltd was concentrated mainly at Ruddington. The transfer of former BR property to Railtrack and then Network Rail hindered attempts to purchase the line. Ironically, it was British Gypsum's intention to renew rail freight traffic that was the catalyst that allowed the GCR(N) to buy the line and restore it initially for freight use.
At East Leake station, houses were built on the former goods yard in the 1980s and some were built only yards from the remaining track. The disused nature of the line combined with a solicitor's error led the new occupants to believe that the line was closed, but BR had never listed the line as closed and could have resumed operations at any time. However, when the GCR(N) applied for a Transport and Works Act 1992 Order to purchase and operate the line, objections from local residents resulted in a permanent speed restriction of 5 mph through East Leake and the station remaining closed.
For Network Rail to route freight trains onto the line during the week and GCR(N) to operate heritage trains at the weekend, a length of rail north of East Leake was removed to create two separate railways. However, with this 'rail break', the GCR(N) were unable to access Rushcliffe Halt, and a better solution was found in the form of a clip-on, double-sided wheel scotch, padlocked to the line at the site of the rail break. At weekends, the GCR(N) phone Network Rail to take possession of the line: Network Rail then lock the line out of use from their end and allow the GCR(N) to unlock the rail break and access the track to Loughborough. In 2003, regular services to Rushcliffe Halt resumed. Passenger trains further south now run on a regular basis to the site of a proposed Loughborough High Level station.
Ruddington Fields is the main station on the line and the home of the GC Railway (Nottingham). It features a road transport building, locomotive sheds, signal box, miniature and model railways, cafe, visitor centre, toilets and car park. The Rushcliffe Country park surrounds the GCRN facilities here. In 2009, a new platform was opened. There is talk of a possible extension from Ruddington towards the River Trent on the outskirts of Nottingham called Nottingham Greenwood, which would expand the line to a total of 24 miles in length.
The gated Asher Lane Crossing is on a private road which was formerly the MOD depot perimeter road. It is a short walk from the country park to the crossing, where it is possible to see trains passing and the crossing keeper at work. There was a set of sidings here, called Asher Lane Sidings, but they have since been removed.
Fifty Steps Bridge is the end of the spur from Ruddington Fields, where trains reverse for the onward journey to Loughborough. The bridge itself originally had 'Fifty Steps' but subsequent modifications have increased that number. The former Ruddington station is further north, the trackbed now being owned by the charity, East Midlands Railway Trust, to support the eventual extension of services.
The Gotham branch-line was a short, freight branch connected to the Great Central Mainline via Gotham Sidings; it was lifted in 1969. The branch originally served a gypsum mine which was located on the north-western side of the village of Gotham. The sidings may one day be reinstated as part of a possible project to double-track the Nottingham side of the GCHR. Trains pass through pleasant countryside at Gotham Moor, which has lots of wildlife, and the line passes under a few bridges.
Rushcliffe Halt railway station is named after the nearby "Rushcliffe Golf Club". Station development is ongoing. Just next to the station is the British Gypsum works. On weekdays, trainloads of gypsum are delivered to the works and unloaded on the concrete pad visible from the station platforms.
The original station near the centre of the village of East Leake is currently disused, but is proposed for reopening (for pedestrians only). This will provide the community with a station once again (and ties-in with the local Parish Plan in that respect), as well as a potential home for the thriving East Leake Historical Society. Visitors to the area arriving on the railway will also be able to visit the local pubs and restaurants.
Barnstone Tunnel (which is 98 yards long) is the only tunnel on the preserved line. It was built by the Victorian navvies and was dug out by hand. Located close to the "98 yard" Barnstone tunnel was another set of sidings, which although removed could be reinstated in the future for extra storage. Between Barnstone Tunnel and Stanford Viaduct, the line follows the ridge forming the Eastern side of the Soar Valley. The railway continues towards Loughborough, passing close to the hamlet of Stanford-on-Soar. The line travels over the River Soar at Stanford Viaduct. GCRN passenger trains first travelled across it in 2000.
GCRN services terminate at a Stop Board close to the A60 road. Beyond that is the connection to Network Rail and the Midland Main Line (MML). There are plans for a high-level station to be built there. The loco sheds of the Great Central Railway at Loughborough are just visible across the MML, about a mile away. There are also plans to reinstate a bridge across the MML and to join up with the GCR at Loughborough on the Leicester side.
The railway operates classic steam / diesel hauled services to Rushcliffe Halt and Loughborough. Most trains are steam-hauled, but the resident classic heritage diesel collection is one of the best in the Midlands. GC Railway (Nottingham) operate every Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays from Easter through to October, and also Saturdays during school holidays, and during December ('Santa Specials' during weekends before Christmas and on Christmas Eve, and post Christmas services on 27/28 December). As well as regular services, GCRN also operate a host of Special Events and 'Gala' days. There are 7 steam locomotives permanently based at the railway, 6 of them being of industrial origin, 4 of these being locomotives which once worked at Stewarts & Lloyds at Corby, Northamptonshire. The line has also hosted locomotives of BR/Big 4 pedigree, notable examples in recent years being GWR 3700 Class 3440 City of Truro, LBSCR Terrier 662 "Martello" and LNER O4 63601.
A group called the GCR Rolling Stock Trust based at the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre owns the third largest (after the Bluebell Railway and Isle of Wight Steam Railway) collection of pre-grouping rolling stock known to exist in the UK, including the famous 'Barnum' carriages (so named as these were the type hired by P.T. Barnum's travelling circus) and some items that even herald from the days of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway—the GCR's title before completing the London extension. The details of the stock are below.
GCR suburban 1905 No.793, not part of the RST collection but under the wing of the GCR 567 Group is currently stored at Swithland Sidings - just been examined and found to be in reasonable condition. Now placed under a new tarpaulin for further weather protection.