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Four railway companies served Leicester: GCR, Midland, GNR, and LNWR.

Avoiding Wigston, the GCR served Lutterworth (the only town on the GCR not to be served by another railway company) before reaching the town of Rugby (at Rugby Central), where it crossed at right-angles over, and did not connect with, the LNWR's West Coast Main Line.

It continued southwards to Woodford Halse, where there was a connection with the East and West Junction Railway (later incorporated into the Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway), and slightly further south the GCR branch to the Great Western Railway station at Banbury.

From Woodford Halse the route continued approximately south-east via Brackley to Calvert and Quainton Road, where Great Central trains joined the Metropolitan Railway (later Metropolitan and Great Central Joint Railway) via Aylesbury into London.

In the 1960s, the line was considered by Dr Beeching as an unnecessary duplication of other lines that served the same places, especially the Midland Main Line and to a lesser extent the West Coast Main Line.

Most of the route was closed between 19 under the Beeching axe.

The GCML was very much a strategic line in concept.

It was not intended to duplicate the Midland line by serving a great many centres of population.

North of Sheffield, express trains on the London extension made use of the pre-existing MS&LR trans-Pennine main line, the Woodhead Line (now also closed) to give access to Manchester London Road (now named Manchester Piccadilly).The line was designed to a specification which permitted trains to run at higher speeds; Watkin believed that it would be possible to run direct rail services between Britain and France and had presided over an unsuccessful project to dig a tunnel under the English Channel in the 1880s.Aside from this ambitious scheme, the GCML operated as a fast trunk route from the North and the East Midlands to London.Partly because of disagreements with the Metropolitan Railway (Met R) over use of their tracks at the southern end of the route, the company built the Great Western and Great Central Joint Railway joint line (1906) from Grendon Underwood to Ashendon Junction, by-passing the greater part of the Met R's tracks.Apart from a small freight branch to Gotham between Nottingham and Loughborough, and the "Alternative Route" link added later (1906), these were the only branch lines from the London extension.

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