Railway restoration is 'living tribute' to enthusiast David
A multi-million pound project to restore a historic steam railway to its former glory is now complete.
The Great Central Railway's double track project – 22 years in the making – has finally been realised with the opening of a new signal box adding the finishing touch.
It has been built at Swithland Sidings, near Mountsorrel, and is the final piece in the jigsaw of plans launched in 1990 which have seen the railway transformed into an international attraction.
Volunteers have put in thousands of man hours to lay miles of track and install signals to recreate the only place in the world where full-size steam trains can still be seen passing at speed.
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Richard Patching, general manager of the Great Central Railway (GCR), said the railway was a living tribute to the late David Clarke, Leicestershire businessman and rail enthusiast, who died in 2002, aged 72.
He said: "It was David's brainchild. His inspiration came from summer holiday visits to a relative who worked in a signal box on the southern section of the original Great Central.
"He approached the current GCR plc board in the late 1980s with the idea and offered the financial support to make it a reality."
The project included laying five and a half miles of double track between Loughborough and Rothley, and building new signal boxes at Quorn and Rothley.
Mr Patching said: "David's vision went further – he also wanted to recreate a busy exchange siding scene at Swithland where a quarry branch line to Mountsorrel quarry saw stone trains arriving, ready to be shunted, and then sent elsewhere along the network.
"Having fallen out of use in the 1950s, the restoration plan was ambitious. All that remained was an overgrown site with one line running through it.
"The transformation has been remarkable. Not only does the double track run through the area but a phalanx of sidings has been installed.
"In a late addition to the scheme, part of the quarry branch line has been re-laid."
The new signal box itself has also been an epic undertaking, including finding an renovating an original box and installing 55 levers to control trains running up and down the line.
The whole double track project has cost an estimated £5 million.
Bill Ford, GCR managing director, said: "This is a tremendous achievement and I would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard.
"David Clarke was a close friend and though he did not survive to see Swithland box open, I am sure he would have been extraordinarily proud.
"His double track vision, where full size steam trains regularly roar past each other is now a reality and a legacy for future generations."
The new signal box will allow more complex timetables to be operated during the railways popular gala days, including trips along the reinstated Mountsorrel branch line.
Mr Ford said it was the railway's long term ambition to relay double track as far as the GCR's southern terminus, Leicester North.