In 1864 Sir Edward Watkin in charge of a Manchester, England based provincial railway company had a dream- to build England’s fastest railway connecting Manchester to London to a future channel tunnel. Despite cynics and critics who noted that there were already other lines connecting Manchester, the line was opened in 1899. It was the last mainline built in the Uk until HS1 opened two years ago. The Channel tunnel was not built until 1994, 130 years after Sir Watkin’s dream.
Grand Central was built with some very unique features:
- a minimum of stops
- running from London through empty countryside
- built to accommodate the wider and taller European trains, in anticipation of the Channel Tunnel.
- few rises and drips
- only one level crossing on the whole route (ironically still in use at Beighton)
- no tight curves (to allow high speed running)
- island platforms at all station (a single platform in the middle of both tracks)- again to allow accommodation of the wider European trains
We started at North Leicister station – the southern terminus of the railway. It was originally known as Belgrave and Birstall station. One of the nice features of the station is a WH Smith gift shop set up as it would have been a century or so ago. We bought our tickets and hopped onto the first train of the day. There are seven train trips a day along the line in each direction.
Riding the train, it is easy to imagine the old steam expresses racing along at 130km/h and its sad we cannot see that speed in the old steamers with today’s journey being much more liesurely. Of interest, is that of course, the Great Central would be very useful today with the overcrowding on the existing lines. HS2, the new line from London to Manchester will make use of a 12km section of the original Great Central route. When it opens, Sir Watkin may be proved right after all!
For unlimited travel all day, the fare is 14 pounds for an adult, nine pounds per child or 32 pounds for two adults and up to three children
The day out was a definite 10 out of 10!