In an era where the construction of a fast main line to the north – HS2 – is the subject of major controversy, it’s easy to forget that Britain once did possess a major main line built to the continental loading gauge and thus capable of carrying much larger trains than those on much of the network.
The product of one man’s ambition, the Great Central main line from Sheffield to Nottingham was part of Sir Edward Watkin’s grand plans to connect the heart of British industry with London and Europe. The last great main line to be completed in the 19th century – indeed virtually the last in the country until the completion of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link a century later – the route south from Sheffield to London Marylebone via Nottingham, Leicester and Rugby was ultimately to become the victim of railway rationalisation in the 1960s when, following its transfer from the Eastern to the London Midland Region in 1958, it was selected for closure in the Beeching Report of March 1963.
Through services ceased in 1966 and much of the route north of Aylesbury was subsequently closed and demolished. Half a century on, the loss of this impressively engineered route is still a cause for regret amongst both enthusiasts and professionals alike.
Drawing upon an impressive archive of rare or previously unpublished images, Great Central: From Nationalisation to Rationalisation is a pictorial tribute to the last two decades of this important and hugely popular route.
This volume appears in our Unique Archives series, denoting the very best in unseen transport photography.