Watkin was an ambitious visionary; as well as running an independent trunk route into London, he also aspired to connect his larger railway empire to the rail network of France and had even begun a project to dig a channel tunnel under the English Channel, Watkin's Great Central Main Line was designed to a continental European loading gauge, more generous than the usual specification on British railway lines, and it is thought that Watkin's aim was to construct a line which, when connected to a future channel tunnel, would be able to accommodate larger continental rolling stock.

From here, the route followed the existing Metropolitan Railway (Met R) Extension (which became joint Met R/GCR owned) as far as Harrow and thence along the (GCR owned) final section to Marylebone.

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The Great Central Main Line (GCML), also known as the London Extension of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR), is a former railway line in the United Kingdom.

It was opened in 1899 by the Great Central Railway and ran from Sheffield in the North of England, southwards through Nottingham and Leicester to Marylebone Station in London.

The line crossed several other railways but had few junctions with them.

North of Sheffield, express trains on the London extension made use of the pre-existing MS&LR trans-Pennine main line, the Woodhead Line (now also closed) to give access to Manchester London Road (now named Manchester Piccadilly).

Several tunnels had to be built, the longest of which was the 2,997 yards (2,740 m) Catesby Tunnel.

Many miles of cuttings and embankments were also built.

The original estimated cost for the construction of the line was £3,132,155, however in the event it cost £11,500,000 (equivalent to £1,188,010,000 in 2016), Three special corridor trains, forming part of the new rolling stock constructed for the new line, were run from Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham to the terminus at Marylebone for the inaugural ceremony.

A lunch for nearly 300 guests was provided, and then the trains made the return trip.

Partly because of disagreements with the Metropolitan Railway (Met R) over use of their tracks at the southern end of the route, the company built the Great Western and Great Central Joint Railway joint line (1906) from Grendon Underwood to Ashendon Junction, by-passing the greater part of the Met R's tracks.

Apart from a small freight branch to Gotham between Nottingham and Loughborough, and the "Alternative Route" link added later (1906), these were the only branch lines from the London extension.

At the time many people questioned the wisdom of building the line, as all the significant population centres which the line traversed were already served by other companies.