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Site last updated: 5th August 2010. See the change log for details.

'Bridging the Gap' supporters might have seen that a brand new jointly-owned company - GCR Development Ltd - has been established to build on the work done by GCR (Link) Ltd. With a board featuring four directors from GCR plc and four from GCRN, the new company will launch a new website shortly. GCR (Link) Ltd is being wound up, having completed preliminary work on this exciting project. This site, which will close soon, was last updated in August 2010. GCRD press releases issued since then can be found here.

Bridging the Gap - Introduction

Dear reader,

Welcome to our well-overdue up-dated website. I must apologise that the onus for this state of affairs is down to me, and I should also apologise to all those who took the time to e-mail me to enquire as to whether progress was actually being made. It must have been apparent to many of you that little was going on, but the reverse was actually true.

So much has been going on in the background that the situation was changing by the month, and much of it was, and some of it still is, commercially sensitive. Allied to this was that I had also been unwell and out of circulation for a while, and that previously pressure of work within the GCR plc had been taking my efforts in other directions while my colleagues were putting in all the necessary groundwork which you will read about.

Enough of the excuses! Within this update you will read all about the realisation of the Greater Great Central, and what it means for GCR (Nottingham) Ltd and GCR plc. An 18-mile railway with all its attractions is at last being mapped out in great detail together with the attendant cost and feasibility ramifications.

You will also read about the Atkins report and the challenges that have been revealed from its findings, and the closer co-operation that now exists between Great Central Railway (Nottingham) Ltd in the north, and GCR plc at Loughborough will be most apparent. Joint Board meetings have taken place and a new working relationship exists to carry all this forward.

On the nuts and bolts side, you will see that we have modified the content of the Gap scheme so that it now has 7 contracts or sections, rather than the previous 6. This has been occasioned by the addition of bridge 326, the rail underbridge spanning the A60 road immediately adjacent to the old gates to the Brush works, and right next door to section 6 of the project, the northern embankment.

Regular meetings between the Boards of GCR plc and GCRN continue, with 'the Gap' as an agreed item to progress.

I sincerely hope that you find these developments exciting and hopefully a portent of things to come.

Tony Sparks
August 2010


Joint Boards' decision to drive the Link 1 connection

Whatever the state of the nation's finances, the "Bridging the Gap" project was confirmed as not just an aspiration but a live project at the GCR PLC's AGM. It was and always had been a vision of the group that in the 1980s moved on today's Heritage Centre to recover the mothballed line from Ruddington to Loughborough to effect the required 500metre reconnection there.

The Link 1 scheme - as it is now tagged - is set to go ahead with private funding and minimal reliance on public funding, based of course on current negotiations bearing fruit. The reception of the scheme by Network Rail and potential users is critical. Current behind the scenes negotiations continue in this critical area and we make progress.

In support of this, the most recent meetings of Members of the Boards of PLC and of GCRN, as well as of DCRT and EMRT, have confirmed commitment and the following statement was endorsed, effectively the start point of the serious business of raising the funds and making it happen:

"The Boards of the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) and the Great Central Railway PLC are pleased to confirm they are working together to establish a connection between their two railways. This project will involve the restoration of 500 metres of former railway closed in the 1960s.

Representatives from the two companies are meeting regularly to progress the many aspects of the detailed planning required. Creating a unified railway, which would be an eighteen mile long independent main line, is a long held aspiration.

The project was first investigated by a joint committee in the early 1990s and then a specially established company (GCR Link) at the turn of the Millennium.

In 2009, it was the subject of a full feasibility and economic impact study by internationally renowned consultants Atkins, part funded by the East Midlands Development Agency and led by Charnwood Borough Council. The study recommended the project as the most important future development for the GCR rail corridor, confirmed it is technically feasible and concluded it has a benefit to cost ratio of 2.8.

The full cost of the project is estimated at between ten and fifteen million pounds and involves the reconstruction of approximately 500 metres of railway, including three bridges, one of which crosses over the East Midlands Main Line. As such it will only proceed when funding is obtained and the time is right for both companies. GCR Link is being reactivated to manage the project as progress is made.

The Atkins study also examined a number of other options for the further development of the former GCR rail route between Nottingham and Leicester. These include the relocation of the locomotive sheds at Loughborough and future extensions to the line. They remain active considerations though not as pressing as uniting the two sections of the Great Central Railway."

Ready and raring to go

What does all this mean to the regular member of the railway? On the surface it would appear not very much. But the fact is that we have at last reached the start line, after some 4 years of planning and effecting a sea change of attitude among local government administrations and funding organisations. That has been a long, time-consuming task, requiring much patience and persuasion. And we must acknowledge the determined progress of the process by Tony Sparks, with Mike Shepherd, and Ian Sheffield among others, who set the ball rolling twenty years ago by planning the reconnection works.

So there are now two levels of actions. These are the development of the public perception; and the planning and activating processes. All volunteers are impatient, seeking every detail and a blow-by-blow account of progress. Keeping the project at the front of the news is less easy as the whole could take a number of years before the project takes a realisable physical shape. We will try. There will always be the commercial sensitivity where stakeholder investors are concerned so we cannot always tell all.

Let's just consider the planning aspect first. We have advocated that the progress of the scheme is reliant on a decision on how to recover the original GCR track alignment, currently covered by the Loughborough Locomotive Works. This was discussed in some depth as a personal view two Main Line issues ago - and the reasoning still holds good.

With tighter and tighter regulation both inside and outside the Works it is becoming almost impossible to consider for instance running a temporary diversion line around the Shed up to the Canal Bridge, because of the environmental considerations of noise pollution, and the cost impact on the P-way and S&T work already delivered and working at Loughborough Central station's northern approach. And the standard and quality of work demanded of and delivered by the Works to deliver today's and tomorrow's requirements is such that a rebuild of the Shed itself is essential - but not where it stands today. To reiterate - it is in the way.

Hence the long discussion over other suitable sites, including the Tip Site which Atkins calculates would cost over £1.5 million alone to access over Hermitage Brook, then another substantial sum to stabilise the ground, before anything could be started on the building itself. Siting of the works elsewhere, has to be resolved as an early issue.

Key is the funding

So how are we to proceed? EMDA, with all the zeal of the convert to the GGCR cause, most recently recommended that, as a result of the Atkins study, the GGCR Concept should be progressed as two distinct streams - but that means a most challenging stretch of the available GGCR talent that we have on the railway today. Those two streams were deemed to be:

  1. The fund raising and the engineering of the Link 1 project; and
  2. The fund raising and the progression of the Heritage Gateway proposal, to include the Engineering Works, a Skills Academy and a GCR archive/visitor complex.

The Atkins Report recommendations on the other aspects of the GGCR concept will be held over until such time as outside stakeholders are drawn into the magic of the GCR and its massive potential.

Our very next stage is to establish a joint north/south development company - son of GCR Link, if you like - to confer with and land the funding from such stakeholders as are most concerned. Our prime targets are the national network and major industrial prospective users. And as a parallel, start the process of assembling a business system, and project and management teams to deliver the reconnection works. All this must be done outside the operation of the two GCR businesses, at least in the primary stages.

Meeting the many requirements

The works themselves offer a number of excitements. These are the need to ensure that the Transport & Works Act Order across the Midland Main Line is obtained, the full gamut of environmental considerations (water course, noise, site access and dust generation during constructs).

While there is a live Light Railway Order covering the extension north of the Loughborough Locomotive Works, over the canal bridge, the embankment and the Falcon Street bridge access to the Waste Disposal Centre, this is likely to be challenged in the Link 1 scheme, especially if as we anticipate a volume of new traffic to and from the Midland Main Line using the existing connecting spur. Certainly a TWAO will be required to enable the new GCR bridging of the MML. An end-on junction between PLC and GCRN will have considerable implications on access and operational standards.

Sustainable businesses throughout the works

So how should we, the GCR enthusiasts, volunteers, shareholders relate to this as a Project and how will it affect us? Our concern really must be to support the project in principle, get the best team together and unite behind them. We must have continuity and the sustainability of the north and south businesses throughout the whole Project to ultimate delivery, at the same time minimising the risks on the two businesses.

Our personal challenge is to keep donating into and buying shares in the operating companies and charities so that all the regular business can proceed as usual.

In the administration of Link 1 there has to be a considerable expertise in project management and control, especially as there could be a number of contractors involved and indeed key activities on the same or indeed nearly same time. Not only therefore must we have a decisive management team which works to a clear brief - controlling scheduling and cost runs - but also the overseeing assistance of qualified project controllers, such as our friends at Gleeds of Nottingham, ensuring we get best value.

Make up of Link 1 project

The Link1 project is made up of effectively seven construction modules, three of which are pure earthworks, the other four being rail-over structures. While the work north of the Midland Main Line is critical to the whole scheme, it is in reality but a small portion of the whole. This is where the new jointly controlled Company is required to originate, obtain and manage the contracts, a new GCR Link 1 body, to last the duration of the works to handover of the finished project to Operations.

So the main works are likely to commence with a rapid refurbishment of the existing Canal Bridge no 329 to allow access by rail to construct the principal embankment alongside Hermitage Brook, past Preci-Spark office block, to a new abutment and bridge no 328 over the access to the Waste Disposal site. The most complex part of the work, which is dependent on the most efficient engineering solution, is the crossing of the Preci-Spark's car park area on the original GCR alignment. Then there is the final leap (with electrification clearances) over the Midland Main Line by a new bridge no 328.

Having introduced the factor of electrification clearances, we must acknowledge this as a critical point on the GCR scheme, as there is a complex of revised gradients and curvatures with the connecting spur up from the Midland Main Line. All will be resolved at the design stage when the capability and requirements of the Class 66 DSG trains for East Leake are determined.

Another matter for discussion and resolution is the matter of access to Ruddington Fields and the Heritage Centre, by heritage and other traffic from Loughborough, as the current reversal at Fifty Steps would be an operational extravagance and direct access at perhaps £250,000 would enable the potential of the splendid new platforms at Ruddington to be realised. Longer term the reach to the A52 through the Ruddington GC station site could be contemplated - but not in the current climate.

Design, construction and delivery

So who is to undertake the design of these various modules? That is a little early to reveal. However, we must understand that the construction means we have chosen, following on from the Atkins study, to employ seasoned contractors who have experience in railway construction, who specialise in bridge and earthworks structures and who have a reputation for delivering value for money. We have to take into account too that Network Rail is rightly protective of its property and conscious of risk and safety, and will allow only approved contractors over its side of the fence. We already have some very useful friends in Birse Rail and Volker Fitzpatrick, both in exactly the right category.

So to sum up here is how we go forward:

  1. After getting the approval of the Joint PLC/GCRN Boards, the intent is to have meetings with the volunteers of both ends to explain and detail as much as we can of the Link 1 project.
  2. The funding sources have to be secured and legalities resolved. These are confidential, but there may be a call for members to participate.
  3. We must now start the search for the best available Project Manager and team.
  4. We have to form a new commercial management Company Limited by Shares, jointly held by PLC and GCRN, with specific remit to manage and deliver Link 1 construction.
  5. We have to seek professional support for Project Control, Design and Contract writing.
  6. Consultation has to proceed on the Planning Aspects of Link 1 with ORR, Charnwood Borough Council, Environment Agency and other interested regulating bodies.
  7. We have to set realistic and realisable targets for delivery - but if Link 1 is to go ahead it must be as one complete package to minimise the financial risks and to ensure that we amortise the investment with earliest income.
  8. We are going to have to understand very clearly that the two railways will have to be run commercially and operationally very cutely if the two are to be the sustainable businesses that the GCR, its share holders, volunteers and supporters, as well as its customers deserve.

What Atkins also endorsed was that we should move towards a union in ownership and operating terms to ensure that the GCR commercial opportunities are fully realised. That however is for the future and when priority one, the building of the connecting line across the 500-metre gap at Loughborough is completed in a few years time.

So the Atkins study has shown that the GCR concept and development is feasible and attainable. All that is needed is the will - and the funding of course!

Loughborough has a rich railway history. At one point it was on three railway lines, was the home of the world renowned Brush Falcon Works and boasted two main line stations both with crack expresses to and from London. Beeching era cuts in the 1960's saw one of these main lines, the Great Central, close. The part of this line from Loughborough south to Birstall became the famous Great Central Railway (GCR) preserved line, operating heritage trains so that new generations can experience the thrill of steam. North of Loughborough, the line was still used until the 1980's to carry freight for the British Gypsum works at Hotchley Hill just outside of East Leake. This section of line is now also preserved in the hands of the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) (GCR(N)) and once again sees freight trains and passenger services.

Artist's impression of the reinstated
GCR bridge over the MML at Loughborough Unfortunately these two preserved lines are currently separated from one another; the bridge that carried the original Great Central Railway over the Midland Main Line was removed by British Rail as late as 1980, along with the embankment up to the Grand Union canal, although trackwork was removed by the 1970's. The two preserved railways aim to reinstate this missing link and bridge "The Gap" as it has become known. To that end a new company, Great Central Railway (Link) Ltd., was formed with the intention of investigating the feasibility of such a project and, if possible, executing it.

Initial studies and costings were drawn up in 1996 that showed that the scheme was technically viable. However it was also likely to be expensive and at the time both preserved railways already had many costly projects underway. The GCR(Link) company was put on hold until such time as it was felt that the two railways might be able to move forward with the project. This reactivation occurred in 2003 when it was decided to seek sources of funding for the link and update the original feasibility study.

Whilst we would all like to see the Link in operation as soon as possible, we are under no illusions that there is a huge task ahead in planning, funding and construction. The completed scheme, whether single or double track, is a few years away yet.

This web site is intended to provide some background history of the Great Central and the The Gap, presentation of possible plan of works for bridging the Gap and news of progress. We also have a gallery of images, past and present, of the line and the missing bridges. If you wish to know more or wish to get involved with the project, please contact us.

Benefits created by the bridged Gap

The achievement of our objective will have far-reaching effects on the railway itself, the experience that we can provide for our visitors, the local community and economy, and for tourism.

It will transform the two preserved sections of The Great Central Railway into one 18 mile long main line. This will provide a uniquely suitable stamping ground for larger preserved locomotives, both steam and diesel. As access to the Network Rail system becomes increasingly modernised and classic steam and diesel trains becomes less compatible with new generation stock, this facility will grow in value. The existing chord line to the national system will enhance the travel possibilities even further.

The greater Great Central will also be able to provide a more varied and thorough immersion into what large scale railway operation used to be like. So, for the railway enthusiast the historian and anyone interested in an aspect of our past that was commonplace 40 years ago but has now almost vanished, this project offers the prospect of a truly unique experience.

For the general tourist and day tripper, the bridging of the gap will provide an experience greater and more varied than either of the two presently separate railways will be able to provide. By creating a destination on the scale of the completed main line, the project will generate many journey opportunities not previously possible. Running through the heart of the East Midlands, the greater Great Central will attract visitors from a large area who will be able to access the line in a variety of ways.

The scale, ambition and novelty of the scheme will attract local and national media attention, and become a focus for heritage railways in general. This will have spin off benefits for this part of the East Midlands, raising its profile and providing a direct boost for the local economy, most significantly through building up tourism in an area not traditionally connected with that industry.

The regeneration of the rail corridor will open up new attractions into Leicestershire for the people of Nottinghamshire, and vice versa. It will encourage employment on and off the railway. Similar schemes on other heritage railways have been proved to have an upward effect on local house prices and security generally, and to deter vandalism.

Public Statement concerning the launch of Great Central Railway (Link) Ltd. (issued 2004)

To mark the launch of Great Central Railway (Link) Ltd. and the reactivation of The Gap project, the two arms of the preserved Great Central Railway made the following public statement:

The Directors of Great Central Railway plc at Loughborough, and Great Central Railway (Nottingham) Ltd. at Ruddington would make the following joint statement. GCR plc and GCR(N) Ltd. feel that conditions are now right to press forward with a full and detailed assessment of the viability, design and costs of the physical link between the two presently separated lines. Great Central Railway (Link) Ltd. was formed for the specific role of Bridging the Gap, and it has been authorised by both railways to move ahead. With an augmented Board of construction and financial professionals, GCR (Link) Ltd. has already met to review the earlier work done, and to map out the prospects for the scheme. It is the intention to produce a full assessment of the project for presentation to both operating Companies, and regular meetings will now be held.

Chairman of GCR (Link) Ltd. Tony Sparks said,

This is a great opportunity to get this prestigious and exciting scheme assessed, and with the blessing of both operating Companies we can now really get to grips with realising the dream of the Greater Great Central. If we can prove the viability, then we would have an 18-mile heritage railway in the top league.

Profiles of the Board and co-opted team members

Tony Sparks - Chairman (Representing GCR(N))

Tony Sparks started in railway civil engineering in 1956, when he joined British Railways at Kings Cross. Projects worked on in those days included the London Tilbury and Southend line electrification, Temple Mills Yard and various other schemes within the Eastern region Bridge and New Works departments. Married and with a grown-up family, he was until recently a Director of GCR (Nottingham) Ltd., and now works in the construction industry co-ordinating multi-million pound projects from inception to completion. He is 63 years old, and has ONC and HNC in Civil Engineering.

Peter Morley - Project Management

Peter Morley is a Chartered Management Accountant with a lifelong interest in railways. He studied Chemistry at London University and he trained in accountancy the 1980s with OCL (now P&O Nedlloyd) and then in 1988 joined Deloitte Haskins + Sells. Since 1991 he has been a Director of Insight Management & Systems Consultants Limited which is a niche specialist financial consultancy which works mostly with UK central government departments. He lives in Westcliff-on-Sea and enjoys the sea view.

We welcome your comments and questions about the Bridging the Gap project. We do not have all the answers at the moment, and this will remain the case for some time. However, we will be happy to answer any queries you have as best we can. Neither do we have a monopoly of good ideas or wisdom. So if you have any thoughts or views about how the project could be progressed, please take a moment to let us know. In either case, please send us an e-mail.

This website designed by Steve Hallam and Tony Sparks, and constructed by Jon Knight. Header design by Ian Wilson. Scanning and CAD work by Chad Gray.

Some of the images on this site are scanned from non-digital sources, and therefore may not reflect the quality of the original photo. If any photo has an incorrect or missing acknowledgement, then we apologise for the error, and would be pleased to hear from you so that we can correct it.