Reunification – Canal Bridge progress

Canal bridge is second stage of massive Great Central Railway project to be completed. 

Two day operation ‘all but’ finishes overhaul of elegant Victorian structure and marks another step forward for eighteen mile heritage line vision.

The east side panel in place and being bolted down. The west side panel lies in the down formation waiting for its turn.

A bridge over the Grand Union canal built in the late 1890s has been overhauled and fully restored to carry trains again as part of an ambitious expansion of the Great Central Railway in Loughborough. During the first week of July two days of work saw the completion of an eighteen month programme of works to refurbish the bridge which last carried a train in 1972. 

The bridge is part of a chain of infrastructure which will help the award winning heritage railway in Leicestershire connect with its counterpart in Nottinghamshire creating an eighteen mile line for steam and vintage diesel trains. Already a brand new bridge has been built over the Midland Main Line at Loughborough. The refurbishment of the canal bridge is the second of seven phases of work. The two halves of the Great Central were once connected but the link was removed by British Railways after the line first closed in 1969.

The Chairman of the Friends of the Great Central Main Line, Andy Fillingham said, “Once again we have to say a very big thank you to everyone who has supported the appeal to reunify the railways, particularly the crossing the canal campaign. It’s an amazing what have all achieved together and shows how people power is getting the two railways reconnected.”

The new ballast retention plates installed on the west (down) side of the bridge to keep the formation in place and stop debris falling onto the beams or into the canal.

Work on the canal bridge was expected to be completed early in the year but was delayed first by winter storms and then the pandemic lockdown. Some minor work remains to be carried out on the Loughborough landmark and a final inspection to ensure it is fit for use. The contractors developed an innovative approach to the repairs which meant work could be carried out with only one closure of the canal which took place in November and December 2019 to avoid disruption to pleasure boats.

Andy continued, “We’re now raising money for the next stage of the Great Central Railway Reunification project. Installing two more bridges that are needed is expected to cost three million pounds. Despite the lockdown and uncertain times supporters from across the East Midlands and further afield have been very generous and we have now raised one hundred and seventy thousand pounds and the total is climbing all the time. We’re delighted to have some good news to share about the canal bridge in these difficult days. We can’t continue to build until we have raised the majority of the money but hope that everything that has happened so far will inspire people to find out more, get involved and donate.”

The moment the east side panel was offered up. The scaffold team on the pontoon will help install the bolts which secure the panel.

The railway has been hosting online talks about Reunification showcasing the work so far. The next is due to take place via Zoom on Sunday July 26th at 7pm.  For a minimum donation of ten pounds, donors will be treated to a fully illustrated seventy five minute presentation which will now be updated with videos of the dramatic canal bridge repairs.

You can find out more about the project and how to donate at www.gcrailway.co.uk/unify

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