UK heritage railway to see 50 wagons for 50th anniversary
Demonstration freight trains are to be a highlight of the Great Central Railway bicentenary celebrations. 50 years of recalling the historic past of British railway operations is to commemorated with a steam and diesel gala, featuring a range of passenger train operations, but crowned by a freight train display on a scale rarely seen since the 1960s.
As a unique example of main-line railway operations from bygone eras, the Great Central Railway at Loughborough, Leicestershire in central England, is gearing up to commemorate its 50th anniversary in suitably grand style. To mark this significant milestone, the railway will showcase a sight once common on the railways but long since consigned to memory. The heritage railway will mount a 50-wagon demonstration goods train, running over the gala weekend scheduled for 17-18 June.
A feat never before attempted
Heritage railways are a part of the British landscape, from the north of Scotland to the south of England. Only one though features main line running over a significant length of original double track – and this is it. Since its closure by British Rail in 1969, the former Great Central Railway has experienced a remarkable journey of revival. Thanks to the dedication and efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers, the line was reopened just a few years later in 1973. The inaugural journey covered a modest two-mile (3.2 km) stretch between Loughborough and Quorn and Woodhouse station. Over the past five decades, the Great Central Railway has grown and expanded, becoming a prominent tourist attraction in Leicestershire.
Trains now venture further, reaching Rothley station and a new platform at Leicester North. To accommodate the increased operations, a second line was laid, transforming the railway into a double-track line, controlled by authentic heritage signalling. The anniversary celebrations promise to be a true spectacle for railway enthusiasts and casual visitors alike. The highlight of the weekend will be the largest locomotive on the line, a formidable member of the powerful British Railways standard class 9F from the 1950s, pulling the 50-wagon goods train. The 9F class was the last design delivered by British Railways, and an example of the class was the very last steam locomotive to be built by BR. The fifty-wagon demonstration will be a feat never before attempted by the GCR, or any other heritage railway. Steam and diesel locomotives will also be showcased, providing passengers with nostalgic journeys.
Underwritten by bulk freight operations
In addition to recreating the scale of goods traffic for which the former main line was renowned, the GCR has four passenger stations, each one representing a different era from the line’s history. “We plan to showcase the best of our team’s hard work with a great weekend of railway theatre”, said Malcolm Holmes, the General Manager of the Great Central Railway. Holmes also acknowledged the emotional significance of the event, recognising the dedicated team members who have been instrumental in the railway’s success since its humble beginnings in 1973.
The original Great Central Railway was a main line railway company that connected Manchester with London. It was moderately successful, but its passenger traffic suffered from competition from a largely parallel line, serving the same population centres. In later decades, the line was underwritten by bulk freight operations. It was closed in stages in the late 1960s as part of a wide ranging rationalisation of the British network. Short lengths remain in use, notably for aggregates traffic from quarries near Manchester, providing materials for construction projects in London, including the HS2 high speed rail line. The closure as a through route represented the biggest single closure of the infamous “Beeching Axe”.
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