Great Central Railway Through Leicester

Photographs along the route of the old Great Central Railway through Leicester showing  its present state and the considerable remains.

Leicester Central Station

The front of Leicester Central Station in February 2021 after its refurbishment.

The Great Central Railway through Leicester closed in 1969 - This site shows photographs of the current state of the route through Leicester.
Additionally, for comparison, a section is included showing older photographs of the Great Central Railway between Rugby and Nottingham.


Layout of this site:
The route of the railway has been split into the following sections, which progress southwards from Leicester North Station, on the preserved Great Central Railway, through the centre of Leicester towards the southern city boundary:

You can also move between pages using the navigation links at the top-left or bottom of each page.


Site Updates:


If you intend tracing this route on the ground please read the Notes For Visitors section which has important information.

If you have corrections or comments please get in touch with me at:


Historical Notes on the Great Central Railway.

The Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway operated in the north of England in the 19th. century, principally around the areas mentioned in its name.  Under the dynamic leadership of Edward Watkin it built a “London Extension” from Annesley, north of Nottingham, to a terminus at Marylebone in London, which was opened in 1899.  To reflect this its name was also changed to the more grandiose Great Central Railway.

This was to be last long distance main line railway to be built in Britain for a century until the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.  In contrast to some earlier lines from the north of England to London the GCR London Extension was able to take advantage of the technology then available such as steam excavators.  The result was a line which strode across the landscape with viaducts and cuttings to give a maximum gradient of 1 in 128 (0.78%) without sharp curves or level crossings (grade crossings).  This allowed for very fast trains services, both passenger and freight.  The line was also built to a more generous loading gauge than normal for Britain since it was Edward Watkin’s intention that it should link up with a Channel Tunnel, which at the time never progressed beyond trial borings, and allow through running with the larger rolling stock of Continental Europe.

However, apart from the towns of Nottingham, Loughborough, Leicester, and Rugby (which all had other railway companies with competing services to London) it passed through nowhere of any size, though did have a valuable cross country connection through Banbury to the south coast and south Wales.

At the grouping of the railway companies into the “big four” companies under government instigation in 1923, the Great Central Railway became part of the London and North Eastern Railway (L.N.E.R.).  However, the L.N.E.R. had a more important main line from the north of England to a London terminus at Kings Cross, and the Great Central London extension thus became a less important duplicate route.

As part of the, by then, nationalised British Railways (BR), the fortunes of the former Great Central Railway took a nose dive in the late 1950s when it was split between two regions of BR, the Midland and the Eastern regions.  This resulted in neither region promoting traffic on the London extension and it was seen as superfluous with traffic being run down through the early 1960s.

In 1966 through traffic on the London extension ceased.  The line was closed and the track was lifted from Rugby to Calvert (to the northwest of London).  A shuttle service then ran from Nottingham Victoria (but latterly Arkwright Street), through Loughborough Central and on to Rugby Central, before this service too was withdrawn in 1969.

In the final months enthusiasts and other concerned people got together to explore the possibility of buying this last section with a view to continuing running commuter trains from Nottingham to Rugby and operating preserved steam locomotives.
To summarise a very long story, there are now two sections running preserved steam locomotives:

These two railways are separated only by a gap across the Midland Main Line of Britain’s main railway network, to the north of Loughborough Central station, where a bridge and embankment were demolished in the late 1970s.  There are exciting plans to replace these to make one long preserved railway - for details visit the “Bridge to the Future” web site, and see the “Bridging the Gap” page here for photographs showing the latest progress.

The track bed south of Leicester North all the way to Calvert (north of London) has been sold off and much is demolished and built over.  Likewise with the track bed north of Ruddington and northwards through Nottingham.


© 2001-2024   Text and photographs copyright Nigel Tout, unless otherwise indicated.