Swithland Sidings, just north of Rothley Station, represents the high point in the unique double track main line project on the Great Central Railway.
Conceived by the late David Clarke, a major benefactor of the railway whose name lives on through the railway's supporting charity, The David Clarke Railway Trust, the sidings represent a quadruple track section of the former Great Western/Great Central Joint Line from Northolt Junction in the south to Ashenden Junction in the north.
The sidings complex was built initially by the original Great Central Railway and opened in 1898. Its main purpose was to deal with the granite trains from the Mountsorrel Quarries via the industrial branch line that is currently being re-instated. Goods trains would collect the granite wagons from the quarry, re marshal them in the sidings according to their destination and progress on to the main line. Returning empties would be similarly dealt with.
The Up and Down main lines adjacent to the sidings were spaced to allow for the building of another island platform similar to that at Rothley and Quorn & Woodhouse but this was never built. However, it is still possible to see the bricked up station entrance on the bridge over The Ridings.
During the 2nd World War considerable enhancements were made to the railway in preparation for the D-Day landings. Work was carried out in the yard at Quorn & Woodhouse station and at Swithland and extra track was built across The Ridings.
In the 1960s with the general decline of the railways in favour of road traffic the Great Central was earmarked for closure and passenger and goods traffic declined. With the final closure of the route in 1969 British Railways started a programme of removing railway track. Before preservationists moved in all that was left was a single track through the sidings. All the sidings, the Mountsorrel Branch and the second main line had gone. So what you now see is what members of the Great Central Railway have painstakingly put back in what is the largest track and signalling project anywhere in railway preservation.
Swithland Sidings now has the Up and Down main lines, Up and Down passing loops, a complex of sidings for the storage of railway vehicles and the re-instated Mountsorrel Branch. It has a re-erected signalbox and is fully signalled with semaphore signals. The signalling became operational in the Summer of 2012.
The facilities at Swithland allow for the storage of railway vehicles and the passing loops will allow trains to be held in the loop while an express passes on the main line. Diners will be able to relax while eating their meals while trains pass by on the main lines. It will be possible to see trains coming and going on the branch and joining the main line in a unique display of former railway operations. The Great Central Railway's famous galas will be enhanced by the facility and will provide experiences of main line steam operation not available anywhere else.
The short video below - taken in 1992 - will give you an idea of how Swithland looked when the Double Track project was just getting underway. It also shows how the recovered section of the Aylesbury South signalbox was delivered to the site.