Friday, April 04, 2008

Woodhead Tunnel: Civil servants know nothing about railways

David Ottewell's blog on the Manchester Evening News site quotes a reply by transport minister Rosie Winterton to a question from Labour MP Tony Lloyd. He was asking about possible new transpennine railway lines, but she said:
The need for additional passenger capacity can best be met through the provision of longer carriages and faster journey times on the Manchester to Leeds via Huddersfield route.
Should additional capacity be required across the Pennines at some future date, capacity enhancements on the three existing Victorian tunnels on the Woodhead route would be considered first.
Three Victorian tunnels at Woodhead? Which idiot wrote that reply for her?

As every schoolboy used to know, only two of the Woodhead tunnels are Victorian. The third was bored just after World War II, as part of the electrification of the route, and opened in 1954.

By the time I knew the route it was strictly for freight traffic, which principally consisted of Yorkshire coal being taken across the Pennines to Lancashire factories and power stations. It was possible to go to Penistone and see a constant stream of heavy trains being hauled double-headed by electric locomotives that ran on no other line in the country because later electrification projects used a different voltage from that used on the Woodhead route.

The route closed in 1981 - only 27 years after the electrification - a victim of the decline of heavy industry in Britain. Passenger trains between Manchester and Sheffield were diverted along it on some Sundays shortly before that closure, so if you were in the know you could travel over it. And it was well worth doing. The climb from Manchester up to Woodhead beside the reservoirs was a memorable piece of railway.

It is great to think that the Woodhead route - and the post World War II tunnel with it - might be reopened one day. But that is looking increasingly unlikely. The two old tunnels at Woodhead have long been used to carry National Grid cables, but it is now proposed to move them to the modern tunnel. If that happens, it is hard to see that Woodhead could ever be reopened.

There is more about the cables on the Save the Woodhead Tunnel site. The Woodhead Site will tell you all about the route, its operation and what is left of it today.

The photograph, which was taken in 1964, shows a train using the modern tunnel and the two abandoned Victorian bores beside it. It has been borrowed from the Subterranea Britannica site.


Gareth Aubrey said...

Oh dear, the researchers really aren't having a good day of it!

On the closure of Woodhead, I've always liked the theory expounded here;

Anonymous said...

the woodhead route should never have closed in the first place.
like the great central route to marylebone it would have been an ideal route to the channel tunnel.
but due to the shortsightedness of politicians we are now left with memories a legacy of what used to be like the mining industry.
the only time politicans come north is at election time then they cannot wait to scuttle of back to london.
they know nothing about us here in the north.
the woodhead still exists but alas only as a branch line to glossop and hadfield in the west and a freight route serving deepcar steelworks in the east.
but now its been turned in to a footpath and cycle way like the peak district matlock to buxton line this too is 2 branches with a preservation society in the middle,
has this gone forever too?