During the 1890s the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway built its ‘London Extension’, more than 140 km long, from Annesley in Nottinghamshire through the centre of Nottingham, Loughborough and Leicester to Quainton Road in Buckinghamshire where it made a junction with the Metropolitan Railway whose tracks it used to gain access to a new terminus at Marylebone in the capital. The line opened to coal trains in 1898 and to passenger services the following year. Further projects created an alternative route out of London and a link at Banbury to the Great Western railway and lines to southern and western England. From 1958 services north of the London suburban area were reduced and finally ceased in 1969.
Railway enthusiasts in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire attempted to establish a heritage railway through a succession of trusts and companies. The first heritage train ran from Loughborough to Quorn on 30 September 1973 but many years passed before the project achieved a stable form of operation. There are now two organisations based in Loughborough and Ruddington operating different sections of the line, but it is planned that in due course the two will be joined.
The Great Central Railway based at Loughborough operates a 8.45 km line to what is now called Leicester North station. British Railways retained the track north of Loughborough to serve a military depot at Ruddington (now closed) adding a connection to the former Midland Railway near Loughborough station. Bridges were demolished leaving the so-called ‘Loughborough Gap’ of 500 m separating the retained line from the heritage railway.
The Great Central Railway (Nottingham) operates heritage trains over a 16 km stretch of track from Ruddington to Loughborough, part of which is used at other times by gypsum trains from the national network. It holds a particularly important collection of Great Central Railway carriages.