Saturday, 3 January 2009

An Afternoon On The Great Central Railway...

For those of you who have never had chance to visit, the Great Central is a preserved railway which operates 8-miles of former main line from its base at Loughborough in Leicestershire. Trains leave the beautifully restored station, Loughborough Central, and run as far as the site of former Belgrave & Birstall station, now rebuilt as Leicester North station. Between the two terminus' lie two quaint intermediate stations: Quorn & Woodhouse and Rothley. The GCR's biggest claim to fame has to be its "Double Track Project", completed in the year 2000. The project succeeded in providing the Loughborough Central to Rothley section (around 5.5 miles long) with fully signalled double track. The track was also laid to full mainline standards allowing the GCR to operate trains of up to 60mph for test purposes etc. This is the only preserved railway in the UK where double-track operations still occur. It is a great thrill to see massive mainline locomotives passing eachother at speed with either passenger or freight trains. As well as offering a pleasant journey with well-kept stations, the railway also boasts a fantastic steam locomotive fleet... Many "big name" locomotives have been restored at the railway's Loughborough Shed including unique BR Standard Class 8 Pacific No71000 "Duke of Gloucester" and 7P Pacific No70013 "Oliver Cromwell", seen in the top image. Currently the railway is operating a Standard Class 2 (78019), the NRM's LNER 04 (63601), "Oliver Cromwell" and, when available, a Class 8F (48305). However, these are only the running fleet. Inside the shed stand more engines awaiting their turn. These include Black 5 No45305 "Alderman A E Draper", the LNER N2 Tank, a Standard Class 5, West Country "Boscastle", Hall Class "Witherslack Hall", a Jinty and a select few others. Currently under overhaul on behalf of the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway is 2-6-4 Fairburn Tank No42085. With such a fantastic locomotive fleet the railway is able to offer almost anything to the budding enthusiast. Trains run throughout the year at weekends and also during school holiday's with many differing special events held in between. A personal favourite of mine is the "Winter Steam Gala", traditionally being held at the end of each January. Gala's offer even more to the enthusiast with freight trains, doubleheaders, light engine moves and more being operated for everyones pleasure. A very popular addition to the gala timetables are the spine-tingling "High Speed Postal's". This involves the picking-up and dropping-down of mail bags by train at speed, using apparatus at Quorn & Woodhouse. These are great fun to watch and a joy to catch on film! (Below I've included a video of a previous of a post drop performed by 4953 "Pitchford Hall" during the 2008 Winter Gala that I myself recorded)...


Anyway, back to my latest visit (today!). I arrived at the quaint Rothley Station at around 12:20pm after a 40 or so minute drive from home. After crossing the track by means of the foot crossing I made my way to the ticket office and bought my "Runabout". At 12:33pm, Class 7P Britannia Class No70013 "Oliver Cromwell" rolled into the platform with a service for Leicester North. I wasn't planning to catch this one as I wanted to stop for a cuppa' before I got stuck in! I headed up to the end of the platform to photograph 70013 who wasn't in her normal guise. She was disguised as scrapped sister No70048 "The Territorial Army 1908-1958". I believe this is in memory of all those who fell and "Cromwell" will retain this guise for a while yet. A nice touch I think! After a "Drive A Diesel" special had passed, the signal arm rose and "Cromwell" powered away towards Leicester North. Meanwhile I had a look at the cracking "G-Gauge" Garden Railway at Rothley before taking in the "Ellis Tea Room". At 1:11pm 70013 rolled back into Rothley tender first for Loughborough and I caught this service. Away from Rothley we went and out onto the double-track. The large yard at Swithland is where alot of the lines rolling stock is stored and this is spotted before crossing the large reservoir. The line then heads into a cutting before emerging on a long, straight embankment with Quorn Station in the distance...We stopped at Quorn before continuing to Loughborough where, after arriving on time at 1:28pm and uncoupling, "70048" duly took on water. I in the meantime headed down to the sheds at Loughborough which can often be visited. Just visible inside the shed were the two resident 2-8-0s, 63601 & 48305 with a special visitor sitting just outside. LNER Q6 2-8-0 No69395 is owned by NELPG (North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group) and is visiting the line for the Winter Gala event at the end of this month. 69395's connecting rods had been removed and the engine stood with the front-end "jacked & packed". I'm not sure what was going on as I didn't stop to ask but its apparently just routine. I rejoined the Britannia ready for the 2:15pm departure for Leicester North but instead of finding a spare window I headed to the "Griddle Car" and enjoyed the "Great Central Fry-Up"! Very tasty indeed. A fry-up, lovely scenery and a cup of tea, thats the real reason for steam trains! I remained in the griddle until Rothley where I chose a window ready for the uphill departure towards the terminus. The driver didn't dissapoint and really hit the 4-6-2 hard coming out of the platform. Even though it remains single track, I feel that the Rothley to Leicester North section of the GCR does have something about it and is very scenic. The end of the line was soon reached, 8 miles or so from Loughborough. 70048 was duly uncoupled and ran round ready for the 3pm departure for Loughborough...
After some brisk running on the return trip, "Cromwell" rolled back into Loughborough tender-first on time at 3:28pm. After uncoupling 70048 slowly made her way down to the shed where, I believe, she would be disposed of at this time of the day. The final departure from Loughborough of the day was at 3:45pm and I was on board. Up at the front the day's other steam engine, 78019, a Standard Class 2 Mogul, was ready to go. The sun was already starting to set as the 2-6-0 hauled us up the doubletrack formation bound for Leicester North. Once at Leicester North I was invited onto the footplate for a look at the controls. I'd already been on this footplate before however, last year, when I did my 2-week Work Experience at the GCR's Loughborough Shed! But this didn't matter, you can go on the same footplate twice! I was told that 78019 likes the "back kept thick" firewise. After I stepped down from the footplate, the 2MT ran round and then blew off as she came back on to the other end of the train. The shackel, steam heat bags and then the vacuum bags were all connected before the "brake test" was performed. The Guard then gave the "right away" to the fireman before 78019's whistle was blown. And off she went again! With the safety valves blowing off loudly, the 2-6-0 stormed tender-first back towards Rothley...
This train was the final train into Rothley of the day so I alighted before watching the Class 2 depart and head off into the distance. (The shot above was taken earlier in the day from a train hauled by 70013 and shows 78019 passing on the doubletrack in the opposite direction. This gives an insight into the thrilling experience that is the preserved "Great Central Main Line"!). It was now almost dark and this gave the Edwardian Station an air of nostalgia. After taking in the atmosphere for a mear moment I caught my lift (mum again!) and then headed home. It had been a good day and no doubt I'll make my regular annual visit for the "Winter Gala" in a few weeks time! Watch this space...

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