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Thursday, 27 December 2007

Manchester Eevening News: Campaign for tunnel vision (Alan Salter)

An article from today's Manchester Evening News about the growing campaign against closure of the Woodhead Tunnel, by Alan Salter:

A campaign has been launched to try to save one of the nation's most famous railway tunnels.

The future of the Woodhead Tunnel, which runs underneath the Peak District National Park, is under threat as owners National Grid want to lay new electricity cables through it.

Campaigners fear new power lines could mean that the tunnel will never be part of the rail network again.

Cables carrying power to Manchester from Sheffield already run through the old tunnel - laid there to stop pylons spoiling the view - but they are at the end of their life.

The old tunnel. built in 1846, is in poor condition and was replaced by British Rail in 1951, but the route was closed down 30 years later.

Now an alliance of politicians led by Blackley MP Graham Stringer, green campaigners and rail enthusiasts are involved in a race against time to try to preserve it for future rail use.

The campaign will culminate in a demonstration at the mouth of the tunnel on January 12.

Mr Stringer has called on the government to intervene to prevent the `rail route being lost forever'.

It has been signed by 28 Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Mr Stringer said: "It would be very difficult to get the tunnel open to rail again once the cables have gone in."

Politicians on both sides of the Pennines are backing the fight. Transport overlord GMPTA wants more railway capacity and chairman Coun Roger Jones said: "I support waiting until a full feasibility study can be done."

Lib Dem leader Coun Richard Knowles said: "It would make an awful lot of sense to keep the option of reopening it."

Local protesters have formed an action group and are organising a petition. Co-ordinator Jonathan Atkinson, from Glossop, said: "It is a very winnable campaign. We just want the work delayed until a feasibility study can be done."

A National Grid spokeswoman said work will start in January and take until 2011. to finish. She said the company did not need planning permission `but has consulted with all interested parties'. The Department for Transport and Network Rail had said there were no plans to reopen the line.

She said trains could not run alongside the 400kv cables, but these could be removed if the tunnel was to reopen.