On assuming its new title, the Great Central Railway had a main line from Manchester London Road Station via Penistone, Sheffield Victoria, Brigg and Grimsby to Cleethorpes. A second line left the line at Penistone and served Barnsley, Doncaster and Scunthorpe, before rejoining the Grimsby line at Barnetby. Other lines linked Sheffield to Barnsley (via Chapeltown) and Doncaster (via Rotherham) and also Lincoln and Wrawby Junction. Branch lines in north Lincolnshire ran to Barton-upon-Humber and New Holland and served ironstone quarries in the Scunthorpe area. In the Manchester area, lines ran to Stalybridge and Glossop.
In the 1890s the MS&LR began constructing its Derbyshire lines,:128 the first part of its push southwards. Leaving its east-west main line at Woodhouse Junction, some 5½ miles south-east of Sheffield, the line headed towards Nottingham, a golden opportunity to tap into colliery traffic in the north of the county before reaching the city. A loop line was built to serve its station in Chesterfield.:152
Coat of arms
The Great Central Railway was the first railway to be granted a coat of arms. The arms were granted on 25 February 1898 by the Garter, Clarenceux and Norroy Kings of Arms as:
Argent on a cross gules voided of the field between two wings in chief sable and as many daggers erect, in base of the second, in the fesse point a morion winged of the third, on a chief also of the second a pale of the first thereon eight arrows saltirewise banded also of the third, between on the dexter side three bendlets enhanced and on the sinister a fleur de lis or. And for the Crest on a Wreath of the Colours A representation of the front of a locomotive engine between two wings Or as the same are in the margin hereof more plainly depicted to be borne and used for ever hereafter by the said Corporation of the Great Central Railway Company on seals, shields, banners or otherwise according to the Laws of Arms.
The design included elements representing Manchester (gules ... three bendlets enhanced ... or); Sheffield (eight arrows saltirewise banded); Lincoln (gules ... a fleur de lis or); Leicester (two wings); and London (Argent ... a cross gules ... daggers erect). Also represented was Mercury (a morion winged [sable]). It was used on locomotives and coaches.
The London and North Eastern Railway and the British Transport Commission, successors of the GCR, were granted Arms of their own incorporating the GCR motto Forward.
The Great Central Railway (1976) Company Limited applied to the College of Arms as the successors to British Transport Commission (Loughborough to Birstall Light Railway) for permission to utilise the Coat of Arms of the GCR. A new design incorporating the same armorial components, updated in the modern style was proposed, but was rejected in favour of the original.
The "London extension"
The MS&LR obtained Parliamentary approval in 1893 for its extension to London.:32 On 1 August 1897, the railway's name was changed to Great Central Railway. Building work started in 1895: the new line, 92 miles (147 km) in length, opened for coal traffic on 25 July 1898, for passenger traffic on 15 March 1899,:132 and for goods traffic on 11 April 1899. It was designed for high-speed running throughout. As a Sheffield company, it retained its nomenclature when the London extension opened. Trains to London were still "down" trains, the opposite of standard practice on every other main line to the capital.
Marylebone station frontage
The new line was built from Annesley in Nottinghamshire to join the Metropolitan Railway (MetR) extension to Quainton Road, where the line became joint MetR/GCR owned (after 1903), and returned to GCR tracks at Canfield Place, near Finchley Road for the final section to Marylebone. In 1903, new rails were laid parallel to the Metropolitan Railway from Harrow to the junction north of Finchley Road, enabling more traffic to use Marylebone.
In 1902 the company introduced an express service from Bournemouth and Southampton to York and Newcastle-on-Tyne. A year later it began a through running express from Dover and Folkestone to Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Huddersfield, Halifax, Bradford and Manchester, avoiding London and opening up the South Coast to the Midlands and the North. The route from Banbury to Reading was over Great Western track and from there it traversed South Eastern Railway track via Aldershot and Guildford to Redhill and on to Folkestone and Dover.
At the same time the Great Central was gaining a reputation for fast services to and from London. In May 1903 the company promoted its services as Rapid Travel in Luxury, and Sheffield without a stop, adopted on 1 July 1903, became a trademark for the company, with 163.75 miles (263.53 km) run in three hours, an average of nearly 55 miles per hour (89 km/h). Slip coaches were provided for passengers for Leicester and Nottingham.
On 2 April 1906, an "alternative main line" route from Grendon Underwood Junction near Aylesbury to Neasden in north west London opened.:33 The line was joint GCR/GWR between Ashendon Junction and Northolt Junction. It was built to increase traffic on the GCR by overcoming capacity constraints on the Metropolitan extension and as a result of disagreements between the MetR and GCR after the resignation of Sir Edward Watkin due to poor health. By the time the line was built, the companies had settled their differences.
On 1 January 1923, under the terms of the Railways Act 1921, the GCR amalgamated with several other railways to create the London and North Eastern Railway.
The GCR line was the last complete mainline railway to be built in Britain until section one of High Speed 1 opened in 2003 and was also one of the shortest-lived intercity railway lines. Yet in its early years its steam-hauled Sheffield expresses were the fastest in the country.
The last train at Rugby Central on 3 May 1969
The express services from London to destinations beyond Nottingham were withdrawn in 1960.:34 The line was closed to passenger trains between Aylesbury and Rugby on 3 September 1966.:34 A diesel multiple unit service ran between Rugby Central and Nottingham (Arkwright Street) until withdrawal on 3 May 1969.
Since 1996 Chiltern Railways has used the Great Central lines south of Aylesbury for local services into London, including the alternative route south of Haddenham and widened lines south of Neasden for its intercity main line from Birmingham to London. In 2008, in a scheme partly funded by the Department for Transport, about three miles of line north of Aylesbury as far as Aylesbury Vale Parkway railway station was brought back into passenger use. None of these lines are electrified.