The Old Dalby Test Track

(and Mickleover)

Welcome to my web site describing the history and present use of the Old Dalby railway test track situated in the UK.

In the late 1960's BR Research Division acquired two stretches of redundant lines near their HQ in Derby and these were subsequently converted into test tracks and used for numerous tests and trials which could not easily be conducted on the main lines.

The high speed line is situated on the Nottingham/Leicester border and was known as 'Old Dalby' after the name of the village next to the site of the control centre. The line is 13¾ miles (21 km) long and runs between Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire and Edwalton on the southern outskirts of Nottingham and originally formed part of the Midland Railway's route from Nottingham to Kettering.

The low speed line ran from Derby's former Great Northern station in Friargate to the junction with the line from Derby to Crewe at Egginton. The line was later truncated to run between Mickleover and Egginton but was closed in the 1990's when a new road was built over the formation and this coincided with the desire to reduce the Research Division's costs prior to privatisation. The site incorporates pages related to the Mickleover test track which I hope will be of interest.

After rationalisation of the Research Division in the late 1980's the Old Dalby line was taken over by the DM&EE and finally by Railtest but remained leased from the BR Property Board.

Following privatisation of the railways around 1994, the Old Dalby test track ownership was transferred to BRB (Residuary) Ltd. which was part of the Department for Transport and had taken over the remaining functions of the British Railways Board including the former BR Property Board.  In 2010 the government announced their intention to abolish a number of Quangos and BRB Residuary was amongst them.

In 1997 Serco Railtest came into being following purchase of part of the former DM&EE by Serco PLC.  The assets from the purchase included not only the operational responsibility for the Old Dalby test track but also the vehicle testing and infrastructure monitoring functions as well.

In late 2000, after a few years with minimal use by DM&EE & later Serco, the lease was re-negotiated and was transferred to Alstom Transport Limited who upgraded and electrified the line during 2001, specifically to test and commission the Virgin Pendolino trains. Although the line was formerly known as the Old Dalby Test Track, Alstom renamed it the Alstom Midlands Test Centre (AMTC), and under their ownership the HQ was moved from the original Old Dalby site to Asfordby, occupying various buildings at the former mine complex. 

However after completion of the Pendolino testing at the end of 2005, and the demise of Alstom as a train builder in the UK, the line remained little used for a couple of years and looked as if it might be closed altogether, but in early 2007 it was announced that Metronet had taken control of the line for its own future testing requirements with London Underground trains and Serco Assurance would operate it on their behalf. Balfour Beatty Rail Projects were invited to undertake a dilapidation survey and submitted proposals for over £3 million of work needed to bring the site up to the required standard.

The use of the line by conventional test trains, on what remains the only high speed test track in the UK was a distinct possibility, although it was a long time coming it finally happened in March 2010 with the arrival of Bombardier's London Overground 2-car class 172/0 DMU and subsequently London Midland Trains' class 172/3 but it has been a bit thin on the ground since then. In September 2014 Bombardiers class 387 EMU's were trialed at the tests track

The use of the line by Bombardier's 'S Stock' trains for LUL is a long term prospect expected to last into 2015.

BRB Residuary Ltd was abolished w.e.f. 30th September 2013 - look here for extracts from the consultation documents

The list of organisations which took on BRBR’s functions and responsibilities includes the following entry.

  • Network Rail is now responsible for a small number of properties closely associated with the operational railway that should have been transferred during railway privatisation or which should be maintained by the owner of the operational railway, various memorials commemorating those killed in railway accidents or rail employees killed during the world wars and the Old Dalby test track in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire
  • Interesting that it is included in a paragraph entirely divorced from railway testing and appears to be merely an afterthought! So after 40 years as a specifically independent part of the railway the Old Dalby test track has new owners who are responsible for the national network too - the last remaining vestiges of British Rail are dead and buried.

    See here for NR's take on the new world.


    Due to certain parties infringing copyright, and settling out of court for the privilege, it is necessary to include the following statement.

    All material and images on this site are copyright of their respective owners. They may not be copied, printed or otherwise disseminated without express written permission of the site owner. Any requests should be directed through this site - THIS MEANS YOU and includes the written word so please don't plagiarise the site!

    2015 News - not necessarily the latest!

    April 2015

    The NMT worked 3Z10 0834 Derby RTC - Old Dalby yesterday morning 16th. It spent two days on the line for calibration and returned to Derby on Friday 17th as 3Z11 departing 13.00.

    3Z10/11 was again booked for this coming Monday (20th) - UTU3 in the consist with a 31 or 37 & DBSO but was caped yet again on Friday

    20905 & 901 are now back in the fray for S-stock movements having returned from their escapades on the Southern Region. Thought they might partner 20311 & 314 on Friday's 7X23 0933 Derby Litchurch Lane - Old Dalby but turned out 20107/096/118/132 ran instead.

    Above info courtesy Ben Wheeler

    3Z10 on Monday 30th March produced 37688 & 37603 with eight vehicles however it only got as far as Melton Up Loop before reversing and going straight back to Derby. 67012 & 67027 were then pencilled in for the PLPR2 visit on Wednesday 1st April but this similarly was cancelled at Derby prior to departure.

    Some class 800 news, it is anticipated that 800001 will be leaving by rail very soon. I also understand that GBRf's 66751, which visited the line the other week to perform tests with the unit, has in fact been modified to haul the class 800 trains and should be the dedicated loco for moving them to/from Old Dalby (for now at least).

    Also of interest is that DRS are looking at testing their brand new class 88 Electro-Diesel locomotives at Old Dalby. The first is due in October this year with the rest being delivered every few months there after. The locos, although electric initially by means of pantograph/OHLE, will all come equipped with a 'last mile' diesel engine for running into non-electrified yards and terminals.

    Three S-stock moves scheduled this week, two to West Ruislip on Monday and Wednesday and a third from Derby to Asfordby on Friday.

    March 2015

    7X09 1147 Old Dalby - West Ruislip down to run Monday 30th as is 3Z10/3Z11 (WTT path - 1015 onto test track, 1628 back to Derby) with UTU2 and a 37 with DBSO. 3Z10 again booked on Wednesday 1st with the Plain Line Pattern Recognition 2 (PLPR2) set, this should be top and tail 67's but not 100% definite on that. 1015 onto the branch, spends a day or so undergoing calibration runs on the full length of the line then back to Derby at 1628 on Thursday 2nd.

    No Freightliner moves planned for this coming week.

    Last week was looking absolutely bananas with movements from Freightliner, GBRf and Network Rail all scheduled to run, some on the same days. The 20's will now arrive with the barrier wagons Monday morning before working 7X09 to Amersham/West Ruislip. The 387 movement will now take place on Tuesday 24th, however there is also a 387 being moved from Old Dalby back to Derby for rectification work on Monday too.

    I have included the full timings (via Real Time Trains) below, with headcodes/details above each link, for all presently known workings this week.

    6M24 Derby Litchurch Lane - Old Dalby (GBRf 20's + barrier wagons)
    7X09 Old Dalby - Amersham (GBRf 20's, barriers + S-Stock)
    6M72 Crewe Basford Hall - Old Dalby (Freightliner loco + barrier wagons)
    7X33 Old Dalby - Derby Litchurch Lane (Freightliner loco, barriers + class 387 EMU)
    6M72 Derby Litchurch Lane - Old Dalby (Freightliner loco + barrier wagons)
    7X33 Old Dalby - Bletchley (Freightliner loco, barriers + class 387 EMU)
    6M24 (no timings available yet, GBRf 20's + barrier wagons, AM arrival)
    7X09 Old Dalby - Amersham (GBRf 20's, barriers + S-Stock)
    No booked trains
    3Z10 Derby RTC - Old Dalby (Class 31 or 37 + Ultrasonic Test Unit + DBSO)
    7X23 Derby Litchurch Lane - Old Dalby (GBRf 20's, barriers + S-Stock)
    3Z11 Old Dalby - Derby RTC (Class 31 or 37 + Ultrasonic Test Unit + DBSO)
    6??? Old Dalby - Derby/Barrow Hill (no timings available yet, GBRf 20's + barrier wagons, late afternoon departure)

    The return 3Z11 on Friday is now running as 1Q11, still 3Z10 outward though. It transpires it is booked for top and tail 37's with the Plain Line Pattern Recognition 2 (PLPR2) set, comprising five coaches.

    Above info courtesy Ben Wheeler

    Freightliner were booked to move a class 387 unit from Old Dalby to Bletchley on Friday morning 20th but it didn't take place. The barrier wagons failed to arrive from Crewe so the job was caped.

    The 20's were  also expected to arrive with barriers from Derby in the morning in readiness for Monday 23rd's 7X09 but they failed to turn up.

    March 2nd saw 31233 & 97301 top and tail 3Z10 Derby - Old Dalby & 3Z11 return hauling UTU1, UTU3 & SGT2, a mammoth consist comprising eight vehicles. The following day saw 950001 visit late morning with a hastily arranged calibration run following attention at the RTC, arriving around 1100 and departing late afternoon back to Derby.

    Friday 12th saw the first of the new class 800 IEP's arrive at Asfordby Depot, by road instead of rail as the unit is not yet passed to be hauled over mainline metals. GBRf's 66751 ran light engine from Peterborough the same morning to shunt the unit and to allow staff training prior to class 800 transfers to/from Old Dalby commencing properly by rail. It is believed that all of them are to be tested here.

    Also, some brilliant pictures have emerged on the web of 47714 shunting the new IEP train (now numbered 800001) at Asfordby on Friday 20th. These can be found on Flickr through the following link: Old Dalby

    A photo of the yard at Asfordby on 13th March 2015 with the IEP behind the class 47

    Iain Wright

    3Z10/11 ran again on Monday 16th, worked by 37402 & DBSO. It is scheduled once again for March 30th in the now regular earlier path (0800 arrival at Melton from Derby, 1628 return from Old Dalby).

    Finally Harbury Cutting, which closed for over a month due to a landslide, is expected to reopen at the end of this week and with it should see the resumption of regular SSL movements between Old Dalby, West Ruislip and Derby. 7X09 to West Ruislip is scheduled for Monday and Wednesday next week and 7X23 from Derby to Old Dalby on the Friday. Freightliner continue to operate bi-regularly 'Electrostar' movements between Derby, Old Dalby and Bletchley using 66's, a few of which have run in daylight just recently.

    2015 began with these future events to look forward to:

    Because the Hartford Loop test track is only available to NR for a limited period, ERTMS testing will continue at other locations, such as Old Dalby where first-in-class testing of onboard equipment will be carried out. The track is currently being equipped with GSM-R in preparation for the start of ERTMS testing. A key advantage of Old Dalby is that trains can be tested at up to 180km/h.

    Testing of an ERTMS equipped HST set is rumoured

    Also the first IEP set is due to arrive by boat at Southampton in March. It will then be hauled to the test track by GBRf. In April the train should begin live running tests, once the necessary measuring equipment has been installed.

    Bad News

    Photos on the test track are quite difficult to get now as the foot crossing at Asfordby Hill has been removed and fenced off, also the yard at Widmerpool has a locked gate and a no access sign and general overgrowth of vegetation has made shots few and far between.

    Locomaster Profiles are releasing a cab ride DVD which was filmed from 20301 on 8X09 from Asfordby. The footage starts at the depot and features an extensive part of the train's route, all the way to Banbury but I can't discover whether it has actually been released yet.

    There are two videos on YouTube by 'Daveszed' featuring cab rides up and down the test track - here and here

    I intend to continue to expand the site and add new or different pictures as they become available. If you have any questions about either of the test tracks, past or present, or can offer any anecdotes or material which would enhance the site, please feel free to e-mail me - see Feedback page for details

    During its history the line between Melton and Nottingham has seen many changes. Below is a selection of pages which describe the test track today and in its distant and recent past, including numerous photographs of the different eras with comments where appropriate. I have also included a few related topics, which I think may be of interest too.

    Click on the buttons to view the pages. All photos are the author's unless otherwise credited (where known). Apologies for any omissions.


    Early History

    Class 89

    The Class 89 locomotive


    A trip down the line

    Current collection

    The HSCC Project


    Trains on the line

    BR Brecknell Willis pantograph


    The line in 1959

    Almost flying

    Pantograph aerodynamic tests

    Midland Pullman

    Midland Pullman

    IVA Hamburg

    The IVA88 train


    Train Performance 1965


    ATP trials

    From the press

    Snippets of interest

    Serco Railtest

    Serco Railtest Days




    The Pendolino



    How it's changed

    Then and now

    R & DD

    BR Research 

    What's happening?

    The Present 

    How we operated Old Dalby

    BR's Operational Details


    European Train Control System

    Staged accident

    Nuclear Flask Test

    A good read

    Further reading

    Talk to me


    Other interesting sites



    BR's other test track  

     Last updated 17th April with news of current moves and forthcoming activities plus an update on the Present page about last year's OLE testing and news of my talks and presentations at the bottom of the page


    This site is totally unofficial and the views expressed are those of the author and have nothing to do with any of the organisations mentioned. The author acknowledges the permission of various companies in allowing their photographs to be used and for the information supplied.

    Any omissions are purely accidental and apologies are offered to anybody affected.

    Site hosted by Gingertomcat Internet Services

    Copyright © 2000-2015 Dave Coxon. All rights reserved

    I have a Powerpoint presentation entitled 'An Illustrated History of the Old Dalby Test Track' and my latest offering entitled 'An Illustrated History of the Mickleover Test Track' which I am willing to present to any interested organisation without charge except for my expenses

    Please contact me for details

    If you have any queries about the any of the subjects or can add any further information or photos to the site, please contact me and I shall be pleased to help.

    All material and images on this site are copyright of their respective owners.  They may not be copied, printed or otherwise disseminated without express written permission of the site owner. Any requests should be directed through this site

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