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Tuesday February 9th 2016

Swithland Sidings Signalbox Opens

‘Magnificent‘ installation formally completes the GCR double track project
begun in 1990

Even more thrilling gala shows now promised, plus the prospect of regular
trains on the Mountsorrel branch line

It has been twenty two years in the making and cost well over a million
pounds. The Great Central Railway’s unique double track project has been
finally completed – not with a golden track spike – but a golden signal
box instead!

The magnificent Swithland Sidings signal box has now been commissioned;
the last piece of a development jigsaw which has transformed the GCR into
an international attraction – the only place in the world where full size
steam trains regularly roar past each other on double track.

The ambitious project was the brainchild of Leicestershire businessman and
long standing GCR supporter David Clarke. His inspiration was summer
holiday visits to a relative who worked in a signal box on the southern
section of the original Great Central, where it connected to the Great
Western Railway. He approached the current GCR plc board in the late 1980s
with the idea and offered the financial support to make it a reality.
Since then miles of track have been laid and hundreds of thousands of
largely volunteer man hours have been put into re-signalling the railway.

The 5 ½ miles of double track between Loughborough and Rothley was
commissioned in 2000. Since then a signalbox at Quorn has also been opened
making the GCR’s spectacular gala shows possible with trains passing every
few minutes.

However, David’s vision went further. He also wanted to recreate a busy
exchange siding scene at Swithland, where a quarry branch line saw stone
trains arriving, ready to be shunted, and then sent elsewhere along the
GCR 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 relaid. There are also long loop lines allowing a
prototypical practice to be recreated; freight trains being stabled, to be
overtaken by faster passenger services.

Swithland Sidings ‘new’ signalbox itself has been an epic undertaking. The
box structure was rescued from Aylesbury, making it a good fit for the
Western / GC crossover scene David hoped to recreate. It has 55 levers,
most of which are now in use to control trains running along the up and
down main lines, entering and leaving the up and down loops, shunting into
the sidings – and a late addition to the scheme, controlling access to and
from the Mountsorrel branch line. The signals are lower quadrant in line
with GWR practice. The entire installation has been protected with the
Smartwater theft deterrent system.

Sadly, David died in 2002, having inaugurated the double track, but before
the Swithland scheme was completed.

Bill Ford, the Managing Director of the Great Central Railway 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 – an educational
legacy for future generations.”

The additional box will allow yet more complex timetables to be operated
during galas, and operation of trains to and from the reinstated
Mountsorrel branch line. It will also allow the award winning
Leicestershire line to further develop its charter train business,
allowing additional trains to run – and then recessed in the loops while
scheduled passenger services continue uninterrupted.

There are now four operational signalboxes on the Great Central;
Loughborough, Quorn, Rothley and Swithland Sidings. When preservationists
took over the line in the early 70s, only Loughborough box was standing,
albeit without any equipment inside. Everything else has been rebuilt and
recreated by the GCRs volunteer led signal and telegraph department to
suit the operating needs of the current railway.

It remains a long term ambition for the railway to relay double track as
far as its southern terminus, Leicester North. This will also require
additional signalling.

Photos by Steve Taylor

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