The western portals of the Woodhead Tunnels in 2004
Campaigners for the reopening of the Woodhead tunnel railway route across the Pennines were dealt a blow today, by the response of the the UK, Prime Minister’s office to their petition. The petition. submitted electronically by Catherine Bone, gathered 1,270 signatures. Here is the full text of the petition.
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Reopen the railway from Manchester to Sheffield via Woodhead Tunnel.
The former main line railway between Manchester and Sheffield via Woodhead was closed to passengers in 1970 and to freight in 1981. Closure occurred despite electrification in 1954. and journey times between the the two cities are now longer and existing routes are at capacity.
Reopening the Woodhead summit line and introducing through trains Manchester – Woodhead – Penistone – Barnsley – Sheffield – St. Pancras will increase capacity between London and Manchester, and could take a lot of lorries off the road!
The Prime Minister’s office response continued the Blair government policy of avoiding any commitment for a modal shift from road to rail.
No current proposals for tunnels on the Woodhead route stop them from being re-opened for future rail use, if they are needed.
The Rail White Paper, published in July 2007, identified the need for more passenger capacity across the Pennines. It concluded that this could best be met by longer trains and faster journey times on the Manchester to Leeds via Huddersfield route. The White Paper did not identify any need for substantial extra trans-Pennine capacity for freight.
The Minister of State for Transport, Rosie Winterton, proposes to meet National Grid in the next few weeks to confirm that the Government would wish to explore further the option of continuing the inspection and maintenance regime for the Victorian tunnels once National Grid have vacated them.
Following that meeting, she would also like to meet key stakeholders to gain the transport industry and northern economic perspectives on the issue of TransPennine transport and how that will tie in with the process of developing a longer term strategy. This will be conducted as part of the process outlined in the document – Towards a Sustainable Transport System (TaSTS).
The first of the earlier twin tunnels completed by the Sheffield, Ashton-Under-Lyne and Manchester Railway in 1845, engineered by Charles Vignoles and Joseph Locke.
At the time of its completion in 1845, Woodhead was one of the world’s longest railway tunnels at a length of 3 miles 13 yards (4,840 m); it was the first of several trans-Pennine tunnels including the Standedge and Totley tunnels, which are only slightly longer. Although sufficient land had been purchased for two tunnels, only one was built initially. The second bore was completed by the later Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1852.
The twin tunnels saw heavy use by steam trains (250 trains a day each way) and this traffic had a huge effect on the economy of the route well in to the 1950’s. They had a reputation for having a with high maintenance needs, since such heavy usage had never been envisaged by their original constructors. The tunnels were known to train crews as the “hell holes” as they were a very small bore and became full of choking smoke as steam engines passed through. They were unsuitable for electrification and were closed in 1953 when a new double track tunnel, Woodhead, 3 was completed as part of the 1.5 kV DC Manchester – Sheffield – Wath electrification.
An electric loco hauled freight exists the new tunnel
In the 1960s it was proposed that this tunnel should be used as part of a Manchester to Sheffield motorway, but in end only a short section of the M67 motorway was built. Passenger services ceased in 1970 and the last train was on 17th July 1981.
Since 1963 the north tunnel has been used by the National Grid to carry the trans-Pennine 400 kV electricity link below ground under the Peak District National Park. A narrow gauge railway runs into the tunnel to service this link.
The south tunnel is in worse condition, has suffered from collapses and is not currently suitable for cabling or transport.
In 2007, National Grid, the present owners of the tunnels, proposed to relocate electricity cables from the Victorian to the 1953 tunnel some time in 2008. This has sparked controversy as it would mean that it would not be possible to use the newer tunnel for railway traffic in future and there are now various groups advocating keeping it open.
Proposals to re-open the tunnel
In 1999 Central Trains proposed using the Woodhead tunnel as part of an ambitious scheme to connect Liverpool to London.
In 2002 the Trans-Pennine Rail Group, a broadly based group of County Councils, Unitary Authorities, Passenger Transport Executives (PTE) and the Peak District National Park Authority provided evidence to a transport select committee identified interest from bidders for the Transpennine rail franchise in reopening the Woodhead route (in 2007 the Trans-Pennine Rail Group was wound up as its work was now being done by the Northern Way and the North West Rail Campaign.
In 2003 the Greater Manchester Branch of the Institute of Logistics and Transport presented evidence to a Parliamentary Select committee mentioning Arriva’s interest in opening the Woodhead Line and Tunnel as part of their bid for the Trans-Pennine rail franchise.
In 2006 Translink are proposing to open the tunnel and the route for rail freight. This proposal is favoured by some groups opposing the construction of the controversial £180m A57/A628 Mottram in Longdendale, Hollingworth & Tintwistle Bypass).
Only Victorian tunnels available for rail!
One of the Victorian tunnels, the south tunnel, is in a poor condition and is unused. The north tunnel carries electrical cables for the National Grid that are coming to the end of their operational life and the Grid is preparing to install electricity cables in Woodhead 3, which would make it unavailable for rail traffic.
In July 2007 the Peak District National Park formally expressed concern at the plans to place cables in Woodhead 3, observing that it could not then be used for rail traffic. In September 2007 the Government Office for the East Midlands replied indicating that in their view it was unlikely that the route would be used for rail traffic and declined to intervene. On the 4th December 57 MPs signed an early day motion in the commons brought by Manchester Blackley MP, Graham Stringer, expressing concern at laying cables in a viable tunnel for rail traffic. On 18th December a written answer in the Commons stated that laying cables in the tunnel would not preclude opening the route to rail traffic. On the 25th the Department for Transport ‘clarified’ this, saying that that only the older Victorian tunnels, which were in poor condition, would be available.
In December 2007 the Campaign for Better Transport (UK) began campaigning to keep the Woodhead Tunnel available for rail traffic and encouraging people to write to their MP. On 8th January the Northern Way, a collaboration between the three Northern Regional Development Agencies: Yorkshire Forward, Northwest Regional Development Agency and One NorthEast, called for the government to ensure the potential reuse of Woodhead Tunnels for rail use in the future. The Northern Way had previously published that economic benefit could be as much as £10 billion nationally with £3.5 billion of this in the North.
On 15th January 2008 one hundred protesters gathered at the end of the Woodhead tunnel to protest at plans to use it for electricity cables.
On the 24th January 2008, work started to move the electrical cable from the north tunnel to Woodhead 3.
Wikipedia – Woodhead Tunnel
BBC – “Engines must not enter the potato siding” (RealPlayer or Windows Media Player needed)
Railways of Britain – The Woodhead Route