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Great Central sets sights on canal bridge as 'next step' for reunification

Great Central Railway is preparing to renovate a historic bridge over the Grand Union Canal as part of its project to create an eighteen mile heritage railway. The bridge is a late Victorian structure which crosses the canal in Loughborough, just to the north of the Railway’s engine sheds.

In September, long held ambitions to build a new bridge over the four track Midland main line were realised by enthusiasts who want to reconnect two halves of the Great Central Railway. This bridge was the first part of a chain of infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt to create an eighteen mile heritage line running almost between Leicester and Nottingham.

Michael Gough, the Railway’s General Manager said, “As the final touches are applied to the new bridge, the question now being asked is ‘What next?’ The most obvious section to tackle next is renovating the bridge over the Grand Union Canal. Undertaking this work does not require planning permission and access to the site is relatively easy from both the rear of the engine shed and from the canal towpath beneath.”

A full survey was carried out on the bridge in 2014 which allowed contractors to establish what work is needed to repair it. It last carried trains in 1969 before the original Great Central Railway was shut by British Railways. Michael adds: “We have obtained three quotes for the work and expect it to cost in the region of £400,000. We believe we can raise the funds for the work over the next 12 months.”

To avoid disruption to canal boat traffic which is at its busiest in the summer months, the railway is looking to carry out the work in Autumn 2018.

The overall reunification project remains close to the hearts of the Railway’s
thousands of supporters who have wanted to see the Great Central Railway PLC based in Leicestershire and the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) reconnected.

Over the past four years, there has been a concerted effort to finally achieve this ambition, and a major fund raising drive was launched in 2013 to take the project forward. Thanks to the generosity of supporters, and a £1m grant from the Leicester and Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, close to £3m has been raised with £2.5m spent on erecting the bridge over the main line. The remainder has been spent on designs and plans for the remaining sections.

The project is a complex one with many challenges to overcome, not least the need to meet modern environmental standards. Furthermore, in recent years, building work has encroached onto the original embankment; also the newly built bridge spanning the main line railway, and an access road to a recycling centre, require additional clearance. To overcome these constraints, a new alignment has been designed to ensure the line can be successfully installed with modern materials and techniques being employed to comply with 21st century regulations.”

The Railway’s supporting organisation, Friends of Great Central Main Line is committed to maintaining the present momentum from building the bridge over the Midland main line. The Friends are therefore aiming to kick start the Canal Bridge project with an initial grant of £10,000. A strategy is to be developed by the Railway with Friends, and other major stakeholders, to agree the way forward for further successful fundraising.

To learn more about the project and to offer support via a donation, please visit: www.gcrailway.co.uk/unify