It was a dark and stormy night. Yes, really, it was, when I first arrived at Loughborough station very late on a Sunday night during the winter of 1963.

I had just been appointed Locomotive Engineer at what was then the Steel Company of Wales, Abbey Works, Port Talbot and I was required by my employer to learn something about 34 shunting locomotives that had been supplied by Brush Traction to the steelworks for internal movements of trains weighing well in excess of 1000 tonnes.

Having travelled from South Wales to Loughborough via Derby – a 5 or 6 hour journey as I recall – my first recollections of the station were not too favourable, especially as the last taxi into the town had just departed.

However, the post of Locomotive Engineer was my first railway-orientated job so Loughborough station and my subsequent career were inexorably entwined.

Move to Loughborough

Twenty odd years later, and in the continuing pursuance of my railway career, I moved my home to Loughborough on 2 January 1984, the day that the Miners’ Strike started, led by the (in)famous Arthur Scargill, and during the next 16 years I travelled to London from Loughborough regularly on the Midland Main Line.

During that period the station changed very little – indeed, it has hardly changed at all since it was built by the Midland Railway in 1872 as a two-platform station located on the Up and Down Fast lines. Being typical Midland Railway architecture, the station buildings are Grade II listed.

Access to platform 1 (Northbound) is directly from the station forecourt and ticket office, platforms 2 and 3 (Southbound) are via a footbridge or a white-light controlled barrow crossing at the north end of the station where passengers who are unable to use the footbridge are escorted across the tracks (line speed 110 mph) by station staff.

At one time, Loughborough actually boasted three railway stations: The current main line station situated about two thirds of a mile to the east of the town centre and previously known as Loughborough Midland; Loughborough Central, now used by the Great Central Heritage Railway, and Loughborough Derby Road, the terminus of the Charnwood Forest Railway which was closed to passengers in 1931.

Loughborough is the fourth most heavily used station on the Midland Main Line and East Midlands Trains predict further significant growth resulting from the expansion of the University.

The nineties

The A60 trunk road to Nottingham crosses the railway at a point about half way along platforms 1 and 2.

For well over 100 years this presented no problem to passengers who safely negotiated the fairly narrow archway to make their way to the southern end of the platforms. As far as I can find out, no passenger was ever injured during this time.

But then “elf and safety” took command and suddenly one day, without prior warning, passengers were stopped from going under the bridge by the presence of a member of staff and the appearance of a sign stating “passengers must not pass this point”.

The scrum resulting from the multitude of passengers trying to join an 8 car Inter-City 125 set using only the rear 4 coaches was probably a far greater risk to them than walking under the bridge had ever been. However, I digress.

In 1993, the never-completed Ivanhoe Line – a project designed to link Nottingham, Loughborough, Leicester, Coalville, Ashby de la Zouch and Burton upon Trent – resulted in a new and very short platform (No 3) being constructed on the Up and Down Slow line.

At this time, there was a golden opportunity to lengthen platform 2 northwards, thus removing the A60 bridge problem and to build a reasonable length platform on the Up and Down Slow line that could have been used as an emergency route in the event of the Up Fast being closed for any reason.

Sadly, neither the funding nor the political will was there so nothing happened. (But see what happens later!).

Olympics

Fast forward now to June 2009. Loughborough University and the Japanese Olympic Committee signed an agreement that Japan’s Olympic teams would use the University’s world class facilities for training camps and final preparations for competitions up to and including the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Nine months later, in April 2010, The British Olympic Association announced that Loughborough University had been chosen as the training base for the GB team ahead of the 2012 Olympics with over 500 athletes being hosted in the town.

Clearly the existing transport infrastructure would not have been able to cope with such an influx and it is to the credit of Network Rail, East Midlands Trains and the Local Authority that in June 2010 a series of projects designed to improve passenger facilities at Loughborough Station were announced, all of which were planned to be completed in time for Team GB’s pre-2012 Olympic training at the University.

A complete revamp of the station costing £7 million was planned to include

  • A new fully-accessible footbridge and lifts funded from the Access for All scheme,
  • Refurbished platform canopies, improving the station ambience,
  • Platforms 1 and 2 extended northwards to 235 metres, capable of accommodating 10-car Meridian trains and removing the current boarding restrictions related to the A60 road bridge,
  • Resurfacing of existing platforms,
  • National Station Improvement Programme works including renewed CCTV, 51 cycle parking spaces, refurbished customer toilets, waiting rooms and ticket office and updated customer information displays,
  • In conjunction with Charnwood Borough Council’s Eastern Gateway Project, improved access to the station, 87 additional car parking spaces with “Park Mark Safer Car Parking” accreditation, along with an improved and extended bus interchange and taxi rank,
  • With all work scheduled to be completed by Spring 2012.

Work underway

A visit to the work under way during November 2011 revealed remarkably good progress on the station works. As is always the situation with any scheme involving the public and Local Authorities, there are a large number of stakeholders, all of whom want their particular claims to be heeded.

In this case, Leicestershire County Council (LCC) took on the project management of the travel plan; identifying key stakeholders, establishing a steering group and arranging and chairing meetings.

Apart from LCC themselves, stakeholders included Network Rail, East Midlands Trains, Charnwood Borough Council, Travel Watch East Midlands, Loughborough University, Charnwood Pedestrian User Group, Charnwood Cycle User Group, Rail Future, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Rail Action Committee and Kinch Bus (the operator of services to the town centre and other local destinations).

To add to the problems of the project management, many of the stakeholders involved had no budgets for such a major set of works and the ownership of the land outside the station where most of the development was to take place was partly in the ownership of Network Rail and partly with Charnwood Borough Council.

A listed structure

The station works are reasonably straightforward. A new footbridge with integral lifts has been installed to the north of the existing Midland Railway footbridge.

This latter item, which is a listed structure, is to be moved to the Midland Railway trust at Butterley station.

Network Rail and the Railway Heritage Trust are offering financial assistance towards rebuilding the bridge that is planned for completion in 2013 allowing Platform 2 at Butterley to be reopened.

It is fitting that a piece of Midland Railway history should have its final resting place at a Midland Railway museum.

In conjunction with the platform extensions, signalling has been altered on the Up and Down lines to provide new platform starting signals. An additional banner repeater has been installed and one moved. These are linked to platform starting signals.

As soon as the new footbridge and lifts are operational, the barrow crossing and white light signal associated with it will be removed.

Platform construction is conventional with concrete copings backed by tactile warning pavings.

The remainder of the surface is tarmacadam which is also to be used in the areas of the existing platforms to present a uniform appearance along the complete length of the station.

The coping stones are supported on specialist oversail blocks and the whole structure is constructed on concrete blockwork walls on a concrete base.

Platforms 1 and 2 will accommodate 10-car Meridian sets and Platform 3 will be able to take 7 car formations.

Interestingly, the extensions to platforms 2 and 3 are more or less identical to those which were deemed impossible in 1993 – what a difference in attitude by those in charge! The purpose of the extension to platform 3 is to use the up/down Slow line when the Fast lines are closed for engineering work or other operational reasons.

It is a small step forward in delivering the 7 day railway which is seen by Network Rail as a key output for a world class railway.

Concurrent with the station upgrade is the completion of the Eastern Gateway project mentioned above – a £20 million Charnwood Borough Council-led scheme that has massively improved the appearance and the approach to the station by means of a completely new road, appropriately named Station Boulevard.

Also included in the project is the building of 91 affordable new homes, an office/hotel development and improved access to a local industrial estate.

Two residential streets have been closed to through traffic, considerably improving the quality of life for the residents who previously suffered from traffic at all hours and illegal parking.

The modernisation of Loughborough station is not simply an improvement.

It is an example of what can be done with the positive thinking shown by Network Rail, local authorities and other stakeholders that benefits rail travellers, the local populace and the reputation of the town where I have happily lived for the past twenty seven years.

Loughborough and Thomas Cook

Loughborough station has a particular claim to fame dating back to 1841. A man named Thomas Cook hit upon the idea of using the Midland Counties Railway to transport a group of about 500 temperance campaigners from Leicester to Loughborough, 11 miles away, for their next quarterly meeting.

So, on the evening of 5 July 1841, the first ever rail excursion took place. Cook arranged for the railway to charge one shilling (5p) for the return journey that also included food.

Cook was paid a share of the fare charged, as the tickets, being a legal contract between railway company and passenger, could not have been issued under his own name.

Following the success of this venture, Cook soon saw how profitable the idea could be on a much larger scale.

He organised a trip to Liverpool in August 1845 and realised that if there was something of interest for people to see, they would travel to see it. The rest, as they say, is history.

A plaque to commemorate the event is displayed on the front wall of Loughborough station.