Great Central mainline closure

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Philip

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Would you say it was the wrong decision to close the Great Central mainline south of Chesterfield, or was it the correct decision in hindsight?

It provided a faster route to London from Sheffield and the northern reaches of the East Midlands than the Midland mainline did and this would probably still be the case today. Keeping the line open may also subsequently have kept the Woodhead line open as they were used in conjunction for services between Manchester Piccadilly and London Marylebone. Today this would mean an alternative and faster route between Manchester and Sheffield compared with the Hope Valley, along with a competitive alternative route between Manchester and London.

On the flipside, the GCML didn't connect with many other mainline routes and wasn't really intended for inter-regional connections en route, rather as a long distance route providing good journey times between London and Nottingham and Sheffield.
 
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nw1

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The GCML doesnt connect with anywhere substantial that wasn’t already served.

Didn't the GC provide a link between Rugby and Leicester? (admittedly not from the LM Rugby station). That is perhaps a missing link, but it would involve some sort of new connection between the GC and the WCML. That said, thinking about it, Rugby itself, Milton Keynes and Watford are the only places that would really benefit with the network as it is. Leicester does have problematic connectivity to places further south such as Oxford, Reading etc but retaining the GC would do little to alleviate this.
 

RT4038

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Would you say it was the wrong decision to close the Great Central mainline south of Chesterfield, or was it the correct decision in hindsight?

It provided a faster route to London from Sheffield and the northern reaches of the East Midlands than the Midland mainline did and this would probably still be the case today. .
But is this actually true? Isn't the fastest practicable London-Sheffield route either London-Leicester-Erewash Valley-Sheffield or London-ECML-Retford-Sheffield? If trains were scheduled by either of these routes they would win against the GC hands down.

In 1956 the 'Master Cutler' was booked 3h40m from Marylebone (dep 6.18pm) to Sheffield stopping at Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham, whereas the 'Thames-Clyde Express' St Pancras (dep 10am)-Sheffield Midland, stopping at Leicester and Chesterfield, did it in 3h11.

The fastest train to Nottingham, the 'Master Cutler' took 2h41, whereas the 2pm from St Pancras was non-stop in 2h16. I am unsure where the 'northern reaches of the East Midlands' are - if that is Chesterfield then the St. Pancras line wins hands down on a direct train via Erewash Valley.

Obviously that was in steam days - the Great Central long distance express trains were never dieselised, but I think it reasonable to assume that any diesel speed advantage would be approximately equalled on either route. By 1964 (all diesel) the fastest train from St Pancras was the 6.45pm, non-stop to Nottingham in two hours or the 12.15pm stopping at Leicester and Derby to Sheffield in 2h59. However, trumped by the 'Master Cutler' from King's Cross dep 7.20pm to Sheffield in 2h40.

Today this would mean an alternative and faster route between Manchester and Sheffield compared with the Hope Valley, along with a competitive alternative route between Manchester and London.

On the flipside, the GCML didn't connect with many other mainline routes and wasn't really intended for inter-regional connections en route, rather as a long distance route providing good journey times between London and Nottingham and Sheffield.
This 'alternative route' would have been ridiculously slow compared to an electrified WCML, to the point of it not being an practicable alternative.
 

Jorge Da Silva

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Didn't the GC provide a link between Rugby and Leicester? (admittedly not from the LM Rugby station). That is perhaps a missing link, but it would involve some sort of new connection between the GC and the WCML. That said, thinking about it, Rugby itself, Milton Keynes and Watford are the only places that would really benefit.

It did but again there was another route which also closed which provided a link from Rugby and Leicester existing stations.

But is this actually true? Isn't the fastest practicable London-Sheffield route either London-Leicester-Erewash Valley-Sheffield or London-ECML-Retford-Sheffield? If trains were scheduled by either of these routes they would win against the GC hands down.

In 1956 the 'Master Cutler' was booked 3h40m from Marylebone (dep 6.18pm) to Sheffield stopping at Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham, whereas the 'Thames-Clyde Express' St Pancras (dep 10am)-Sheffield Midland, stopping at Leicester and Chesterfield, did it in 3h11.

The fastest train to Nottingham, the 'Master Cutler' took 2h41, whereas the 2pm from St Pancras was non-stop in 2h16. I am unsure where the 'northern reaches of the East Midlands' are - if that is Chesterfield then the St. Pancras line wins hands down on a direct train via Erewash Valley.

Obviously that was in steam days - the Great Central long distance express trains were never dieselised, but I think it reasonable to assume that any diesel speed advantage would be approximately equalled on either route. By 1964 (all diesel) the fastest train from St Pancras was the 6.45pm, non-stop to Nottingham in two hours or the 12.15pm stopping at Leicester and Derby to Sheffield in 2h59. However, trumped by the 'Master Cutler' from King's Cross dep 7.20pm to Sheffield in 2h40.


This 'alternative route' would have been ridiculously slow compared to an electrified WCML, to the point of it not being an practicable alternative.

Then there is the capacity issues at Marylebone and Manchester ends of the line.
 

RT4038

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Didn't the GC provide a link between Rugby and Leicester? (admittedly not from the LM Rugby station). That is perhaps a missing link, but it would involve some sort of new connection between the GC and the WCML. That said, thinking about it, Rugby itself, Milton Keynes and Watford are the only places that would really benefit with the network as it is. Leicester does have problematic connectivity to places further south such as Oxford, Reading etc but retaining the GC would do little to alleviate this.
The former Midland route from Rugby(Midland) to Leicester (London Road) would have been more useful to retain, although it had a very awkward junction immediately beyond the northern platforms of Rugby Station (effectively banning the operation of through northbound trains) and a problematic level crossing over the busy A5 road. Northampton would be a beneficiary too!
 

Jorge Da Silva

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The former Midland route from Rugby(Midland) to Leicester (London Road) would have been more useful to retain, although it had a very awkward junction immediately beyond the northern platforms of Rugby Station and a problematic level crossing over the busy A5 road. Northampton would be a beneficiary too!
Yes it would have been useful.
 

Bletchleyite

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Didn't the GC provide a link between Rugby and Leicester? (admittedly not from the LM Rugby station). That is perhaps a missing link, but it would involve some sort of new connection between the GC and the WCML. That said, thinking about it, Rugby itself, Milton Keynes and Watford are the only places that would really benefit with the network as it is. Leicester does have problematic connectivity to places further south such as Oxford, Reading etc but retaining the GC would do little to alleviate this.

MK-Leicester can be done via Nuneaton, which isn't hugely roundabout.
 

WesternLancer

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Would you say it was the wrong decision to close the Great Central mainline south of Chesterfield, or was it the correct decision in hindsight?

It provided a faster route to London from Sheffield and the northern reaches of the East Midlands than the Midland mainline did and this would probably still be the case today. Keeping the line open may also subsequently have kept the Woodhead line open as they were used in conjunction for services between Manchester Piccadilly and London Marylebone. Today this would mean an alternative and faster route between Manchester and Sheffield compared with the Hope Valley, along with a competitive alternative route between Manchester and London.

On the flipside, the GCML didn't connect with many other mainline routes and wasn't really intended for inter-regional connections en route, rather as a long distance route providing good journey times between London and Nottingham and Sheffield.
I'd say with hindsight it was probably an error - purely since it could have been closed and converted into the basis of an HS route north far more cost effectively than work to create an HS line now. Even though much investment would have been needed to build new routes from it to serve eg west mids / Leeds etc.

But at the time it would have been the right decision since UK govt had no intention of developing an HS line (even tho one in Japan was being built), and instead was focusing spend on creating a motorway network, whilst desperate trying to find way to reduce spending on railways.

Also the imperative for a HS line would have been less since few cars could cruise at sustained speeds of 70mph that easily, so by developing conventional lines at say 100mph rail could have a large advantage over most cars for inter city travel and this would have been a factor.

Also I suspect for various demographic, employment and social reasons inter city travel (+commuting) has boomed since the 1960s and this would not have been foreseen at the time - so the capacity issues that now need resolving would not have been on the horizon.

It would have taken a far sighted visionary in civil service to have suggested the above was best future for the GCR mainline. As Boris J pointed out yesterday, that's not really what Whitehall does.... hence we got Peppa Pig World instead (shome mishtake shurely....)
But is this actually true? Isn't the fastest practicable London-Sheffield route either London-Leicester-Erewash Valley-Sheffield or London-ECML-Retford-Sheffield? If trains were scheduled by either of these routes they would win against the GC hands down.

In 1956 the 'Master Cutler' was booked 3h40m from Marylebone (dep 6.18pm) to Sheffield stopping at Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham, whereas the 'Thames-Clyde Express' St Pancras (dep 10am)-Sheffield Midland, stopping at Leicester and Chesterfield, did it in 3h11.

The fastest train to Nottingham, the 'Master Cutler' took 2h41, whereas the 2pm from St Pancras was non-stop in 2h16. I am unsure where the 'northern reaches of the East Midlands' are - if that is Chesterfield then the St. Pancras line wins hands down on a direct train via Erewash Valley.

Obviously that was in steam days - the Great Central long distance express trains were never dieselised, but I think it reasonable to assume that any diesel speed advantage would be approximately equalled on either route. By 1964 (all diesel) the fastest train from St Pancras was the 6.45pm, non-stop to Nottingham in two hours or the 12.15pm stopping at Leicester and Derby to Sheffield in 2h59. However, trumped by the 'Master Cutler' from King's Cross dep 7.20pm to Sheffield in 2h40.


This 'alternative route' would have been ridiculously slow compared to an electrified WCML, to the point of it not being an practicable alternative.
But would the GCR have had the potential for cheaper and quicker upgrading to 125mph + that the MML has never had? Thus the GCR could have been transformative - if modernised and invested in, but the MML has not been able to be so transformed.

Clearly I mean retaining the GCR with trans-formative levels of investment put in - which I am under no illusion would have been sanctioned at the time - with a view to commencing an HS network in the UK.

My point being that the question has been done to death over the years unless looked at in hindsight through a different lens (maybe a rose tinted lens too...;))
 
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Jorge Da Silva

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I'd say with hindsight it was probably an error - purely since it could have been closed and converted into the basis of an HS route north far more cost effectively than work to create an HS line now. Even though much investment would have been needed to build new routes from it to serve eg west mids / Leeds etc.

But at the time it would have been the right decision since UK govt had no intention of developing an HS line (even tho one in Japan was being built), and instead was focusing spend on creating a motorway network, whilst desperate trying to find way to reduce spending on railways.

Also the imperative for a HS line would have been less since few cars could cruise at sustained speeds of 70mph that easily, so by developing conventional lines at say 100mph rail could have a large advantage over most cars for inter city travel and this would have been a factor.

Also I suspect for various demographic, employment and social reasons inter city travel (+commuting) has boomed since the 1960s and this would not have been foreseen at the time - so the capacity issues that now need resolving would not have been on the horizon.

It would have taken a far sighted visionary in civil service to have suggested the above was best future for the GCR mainline. As Boris J pointed out yesterday, that's not really what Whitehall does.... hence we got Peppa Pig World instead (shome mishtake shurely....)

But would the GCR have had the potential for cheaper and quicker upgrading to 125mph + that the MML has never had? Thus the GCR could have been transformative - if modernised and invested in, but the MML has not been able to be so transformed.

It would be a worse route a it is actually very windy just take a look on the Railmap online. It was NOT built to continental gauge. It would not have been cheaper than hs2. Marylebone would not been able to cope neither could the Manchester end of the line. In fact it was far more bendier than the MML. Definitely not high speed.
 

hexagon789

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I'd say with hindsight it was probably an error - purely since it could have been closed and converted into the basis of an HS route north far more cost effectively than work to create an HS line now. Even though much investment would have been needed to build new routes from it to serve eg west mids / Leeds etc.

But at the time it would have been the right decision since UK govt had no intention of developing an HS line (even tho one in Japan was being built), and instead was focusing spend on creating a motorway network, whilst desperate trying to find way to reduce spending on railways.

Also the imperative for a HS line would have been less since few cars could cruise at sustained speeds of 70mph that easily, so by developing conventional lines at say 100mph rail could have a large advantage over most cars for inter city travel and this would have been a factor.

Also I suspect for various demographic, employment and social reasons inter city travel (+commuting) has boomed since the 1960s and this would not have been foreseen at the time - so the capacity issues that now need resolving would not have been on the horizon.

It would have taken a far sighted visionary in civil service to have suggested the above was best future for the GCR mainline. As Boris J pointed out yesterday, that's not really what Whitehall does.... hence we got Peppa Pig World instead (shome mishtake shurely....)

But would the GCR have had the potential for cheaper and quicker upgrading to 125mph + that the MML has never had? Thus the GCR could have been transformative - if modernised and invested in, but the MML has not been able to be so transformed.

Clearly I mean retaining the GCR with trans-formative levels of investment put in - which I am under no illusion would have been sanctioned at the time - with a view to commencing an HS network in the UK.

My point being that the question has been done to death over the years unless looked at in hindsight through a different lens (maybe a rose tinted lens too...;))
No because it wasn't super straight, it wasn't super fast (laid out for only a 75mph linespeed when the MML was 90 on the southern section and 80 on the northern branches) and it wasn't built to Continental loading gauge so there was not the additional space for modern high-speed trains.
 

RT4038

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But would the GCR have had the potential for cheaper and quicker upgrading to 125mph + that the MML has never had? Thus the GCR could have been transformative - if modernised and invested in, but the MML has not been able to be so transformed.

Clearly I mean retaining the GCR with trans-formative levels of investment put in - which I am under no illusion would have been sanctioned at the time - with a view to commencing an HS network in the UK.

My point being that the question has been done to death over the years unless looked at in hindsight through a different lens (maybe a rose tinted lens too...;))
This is a good question - the 'open' sections of line from Ashendon/Grendon Underwood through to Nottingham would probably have been upgradeable to 125mph, at some cost of relocating station platforms of any retained stations I suspect, and the acceptance of some speed restriction across the Avon valley at Rugby without major work. However the approaches to London would have been problematic, as would the mining subsidence issues north of Nottingham, and capacity at Marylebone might have been quite expensive to mitigate.
The lack of interchange availability at most of the towns and cities served is a major drawback however.....
 
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Helvellyn

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HS2 goes via Birmingham whereas the GCML does not.

The GCML stations were not as well linked to existing routes for local services. Any potential time savings for a quicker route might well be wiped out by building spurs to get to/from the existing stations.

Capacity out of London would have been problematic. Yes, that is partly hindsight given how the Chiltern route has grown but it would still be the case you need to get around the National Rail and Met services.

Marylebone isn't well connected compared to St Pancras with only the Bakerloo Line serving it. People complain Paddington is bad but Marylebone would be worse as a long distance hub.

Marylebone Station was never built out to its full extend, platform wise, but looking at the concourse it wouldn't have lots of excess capacity.

If the GCML had been retained over the MML then I think you'd have had even more pressure for BR in the 1970s/1980s to divert traffic away to the ECML and WCML. Certainly at the Southern end, say with a new flying junction at Rugby and then down to Euston.
 

THC

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Get yourself a copy of "Great Central Reborn" by Mark Beckett - he explores this in detail. A really enjoyable read.

THC
 

Taunton

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The dominant thing is the connectivity with other lines, which the GCR main, almost more than any other comparable line, didn't do. Yes, there are network holes such as Rugby to Leicester, but when at the end it was cut back to just a dmu service joining these two, not running south of Rugby, the train was commonly completely empty. If it had run between the other stations in Rugby and Leicester it would have been of much greater benefit.
 

A0wen

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I'd say with hindsight it was probably an error - purely since it could have been closed and converted into the basis of an HS route north far more cost effectively than work to create an HS line now. Even though much investment would have been needed to build new routes from it to serve eg west mids / Leeds etc.

But at the time it would have been the right decision since UK govt had no intention of developing an HS line (even tho one in Japan was being built), and instead was focusing spend on creating a motorway network, whilst desperate trying to find way to reduce spending on railways.

The problem was - and would have been - it didn't serve Birmingham and the West Mids, nor was it a particularly direct route to Manchester and the NW. So whilst it might have provided a better HS route to the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, it wouldn't have done much else.

However, as for the second part - which I've put in bold - the government had a strange way of trying to "reduce spending on the railways" when it was busy electrifying the West Coast Mainline from Liverpool and Manchester to Birmingham and London, electrifying the London to Bournemouth line, funding the nascent APT project etc.
 

Philip

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It would be a worse route a it is actually very windy just take a look on the Railmap online. It was NOT built to continental gauge. It would not have been cheaper than hs2. Marylebone would not been able to cope neither could the Manchester end of the line. In fact it was far more bendier than the MML. Definitely not high speed.
If the GCR had been retained then the chances are the current Chiltern line services would have continued to be based from Paddington rather than from Marylebone. Also at the Manchester end the fast trains to Sheffield would probably be going via Woodhead now rather than Hope Valley, so capacity at either end might not have been as much of a problem as you think.
 

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The only real advantage of the GC which wasn't matched by other lines was the link from Leicester to Banbury. That link could have been retained if a chord had been built at Ullesthorpe to allow direct running from Leicester Midland to Rugby Central.
 

Falcon1200

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Would you say it was the wrong decision to close the Great Central mainline south of Chesterfield, or was it the correct decision in hindsight?

Correct, because:

A nationalised railway had no reason to compete with itself;
The Midland Main Line could never have been closed, given its connectivity and originating traffic, also because;
The GCR did not serve Derby (at all) or Chesterfield (directly)

The conundrum is really why the GCR London Extension was built in the first place, as every single place of significance it served already had a rail connection.
 

30907

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If the GCR had been retained then the chances are the current Chiltern line services would have continued to be based from Paddington rather than from Marylebone.
They were never run out of Paddington. Apart from the Birmingham expresses, after the Central Line extension the WR ran precisely one train each way out to High Wycombe (the predecessor of the well-known "parliamentary").
 

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I think it would make more of a useful Cross Country route, which is what I would think would happen to it if it was kept open. I could see a Bournemouth-Reading-Oxford-Rugby-Leicester-Nottingham-Sheffield-Manchester train or something similar
 

JonathanH

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I think it would make more of a useful Cross Country route, which is what I would think would happen to it if it was kept open. I could see a Bournemouth-Reading-Oxford-Rugby-Leicester-Nottingham-Sheffield-Manchester train or something similar
That would in no sense be a competitive route against the current Cross Country route. Something like that could never have survived the lean railway years or the reduction in duplicate routes.
 

Sad Sprinter

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That would in no sense be a competitive route against the current Cross Country route. Something like that could never have survived the lean railway years or the reduction in duplicate routes.

Well it would open up direct East Midlands to Manchester trains (although they seem to be a contentious topic on here) and connect the East Midlands better with Southern England.

The XC is literally a South West/North East spine, the GCR would fulfil and entirely different function.
 

steamybrian

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It is difficult to imagine the situation in 1962 when the passenger counts were made for the 1963 Beeching Report-
Passenger traffic was falling and the car numbers were increasing rapidly.
The GC was making a huge loss.
It was predominately a duplicate route.
Economies were made in March 1963 when a number of smaller stations were closed but the losses were still continuing.

I therefore agree that at the time is was an obvious candidate for closure . Possibly the middle section between Rugby and Leicester could have kept open and connected to the West Coast Line and MML respectively.

With hindsight it is easy to look back but HS1 or HS2 was not even considered then but only Sir Edward Watkin maybe the only one with foresight...!
 

JonathanH

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Well it would open up direct East Midlands to Manchester trains (although they seem to be a contentious topic on here) and connect the East Midlands better with Southern England.
East Midlands to Manchester services have run via Sheffield and the Hope Valley for many years - through the 1990s they used two car units running hourly. More recently a bit more capacity has been needed but a lot of that is Sheffield to Manchester traffic.

East Midlands to Southern England connections used to be possible at Coventry. The railway didn't develop these services or retain the ability to run them which probably indicates demand.

In a parallel world where the line remained in existence there might be some clamour to link up services but it just would not have been economic all the way from the late 1960s.
 

Bevan Price

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The best use for the GCR main line would have been as an alternative route for North/South freight. With a few new/modified connections, it could have carried much of the inter-modal freight traffic to & from Trafford Park and Yorkshire, releasing paths on much of the WCML (southern end) for more passenger services.

Passenger services to London Marylebone could never have competed with MML, but it might have become a useful Cross Country route avoiding Birmingham, for the East Midlands (Nottingham / Leicester) to Oxford / Reading / South Coast via Woodford Halse & Banbury. Whilst closing some of the less busy, there could have been a potentially useful semi-fast / commuting service between Sheffield and Nottingham or Leicester serving places like Staveley, Hucknall & Bulwell.
 

NoRoute

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Correct, because:

A nationalised railway had no reason to compete with itself;
The Midland Main Line could never have been closed, given its connectivity and originating traffic, also because;
The GCR did not serve Derby (at all) or Chesterfield (directly)

The conundrum is really why the GCR London Extension was built in the first place, as every single place of significance it served already had a rail connection.

Actually the Beeching Report did propose to close much of the Midland Mainline, many of the maps show it closed entirely south of Leicester, with Leicester connecting to the WCML via Nuneaton. And of course St Pancras was planned for demolition.

As to why the GCR London extension was built, well it is for much the same reason as we are building HS2 today, it wasn't intended to stop at every town along the route, but to the provide fast, direct services between London and the North. And just as HS2 doesn't stop at every town along the route because it wouldn't make sense, neither did GCR.

While I can understand the logic of closing the GCR I think it was unfortunate that there wasn't more effort made to retain some of the good parts, after all the UK rail network is a patchwork quilt sewn together from different bits from different companies across the years. The GCR did have some good assets which should have been kept, particularly in Nottingham with Victoria station right in the city centre and the north-south route straight through through the city, this could have allowed London to Sheffield services through Nottingham to be retained which would have benefitted the city's connectivity in the long term, much better than the Midland station is was left with.
 

trebor79

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Yes, there are network holes such as Rugby to Leicester, but when at the end it was cut back to just a dmu service joining these two, not running south of Rugby,
I've never understood why they did this. What an earth was the rational for maintaining that Nottingham (Arkwright) - Leicester - Rugby shuttle? It didn't connect with any other services, interchange with other stations was hardly convenient and the passenger loadings were minimal.
Why didn't that section shut with the rest of if? What did BR think the shuttle service was neede for, and was it expected to remain running indefinitely?
 

Philip

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I've never understood why they did this. What an earth was the rational for maintaining that Nottingham (Arkwright) - Leicester - Rugby shuttle? It didn't connect with any other services, interchange with other stations was hardly convenient and the passenger loadings were minimal.
Why didn't that section shut with the rest of if? What did BR think the shuttle service was neede for, and was it expected to remain running indefinitely?
To retain a direct link between Nottingham and Rugby and a more convenient link between Leicester and Rugby?

Let's not forget the Woodhead part either. If this line had remained open then Manchester to Sheffield journey times would have been much quicker even then compared with now on the Chinley route.
 
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