Saturday, 27 February 2010
The Mountsorrel Railway Project
We had a VolkerRail visit to The Mountsorrel Railway Project which is concerned with rebuilding part of the branch between Mountsorrel Quarry and the Great Central mainline at Swithland Sidings. The quarry also had a branch to the Midland Mainline and built the connection the the GC when they won the contract to supply ballast when the GC was originally constructed. This stretch of the line saw just a handful of trains leaving each week (the gradients meant wagons had to be brought up just three at a time!) and this contrasted greatly with the volume of traffic which left via the Midland, where ten trains a day was not uncommon. About three quarters of the quarry's output still leaves by rail, although the movement between the quarry and the Midland mainline is now by a conveyor which uses the former trackbed.
The branch to the Great Central fell out of use in 1953 but the route was never formerly abandoned and, much like the Welsh Highland Railway, the powers of the original Act of Parliament still remained. However, the Mountsorrel project couldn't be more of a contrast with the Welsh Highland. Whereas the WHR is a huge multi-million pound project with its own construction company Mountsorrel is a small project which is very careful with its limited resources - in fact, the amount they have achieved with such a small outlay is amazing!
We met with Steve Cramp, who is the driving force behind the project and you cannot help but be impressed by his enormous enthusiasm for the project!
He explained that the project is more of a community project than a heritage railway one; the help and support from the local area is very impressive and at a level I've not seen before. As a railway corridor local ecologists have been able to study it before track is laid, and thus without risk of being hit by anything! Similarly local schools and children's group (Scouts, etc.) have planted and cultivated wild flowers along the cutting sides - this a reflection of what used to grow before trees took over the trackbed and blocked out their light. Obviously this will have to stop once the line opens but for now it has created a rather unique attraction. Perhaps one of the most innovative activities we heard today was an archaeological dig!
Part way along the line is an occupation crossing allowing farmers access to land on either side of the line; in this are about sixteen original chairs as well as sets which formed the roadway. A local school want to come and excavate this and links have been made with Liecester University's Archaeology Department who will be helping and advising on the 'dig' - this is truly an wonderful project!
This all means that the railway is not seen as 'men playing with trains' but as an integral part of the area. The way Steve and his team have integrated and embraced local and ecological needs is very impressive - in fact I'm sure many 'professional' civil engineering projects and project managers could a lot from this approach.
As time has gone by companies in the vicinity have been very generous with time and resources - Lafarge, who now own and operate the quarry have donated a large quantity of ballast, which has allowed the be to be laid along approximately two thirds of the branch (as above). Similarly companies have been generous with providing plant too.
As well as having usual tasks such as vegetation clearance the group are also faced with a few more challenging tasks. One such example is how to ease the curve around the bridge at Swithland Road, above. The issue is how to create enough room for a bogie vehicle to pass through without catching the structure whilst not imposing upon the aesthetics of surroundings.
The line will terminate just by the edge of the current quarrying operation just near a farm park - this is another example of how the railway will integrate with the local community - in this case it should help the local economy.
This is truly an amazing and wonderful project - as well as the infrastructure itself the icing on the cake will be seeing the Mountsorrel Granite liveried wagons being worked along the branch by the sole remaining locomotive (Peckett 0-4-0ST, works number 1759 of 1928 named Elizabeth) from the company, which is currently undergoing restoration at the Rutland Railway Museum. When this happens the Mounstsorrel Railway will be a superb recreation of how this part of the world used to be and will demonstrate how the railway was a part of the local community.
We had a very enjoyable visit and I would just like to thank Steve for his time and hospitality!