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Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Sheffield Star: Protest over power line in rail tunnel (Mark Hookham)

An article from today's Sheffield Star about growing political disquiet over National Grid's plans for the tunnel, by Mark Hookham:

Ministers are facing mounting pressure from MPs to scrap plans to run a huge electricity power line through the disused Woodhead railway tunnel linking Sheffield with Manchester.
Campaigners say the Government-approved plans by National Grid to plant the cables in the trans-Pennine tunnel would prevent the route, which has been closed since the 1980s, from ever being reopened.

Under Sheffield's Economic Masterplan - the 15-year blueprint for the city's development - better rail links across the Pennines are crucial.

Now 21 MPs, including Sheffield Hillsborough's Angela Smith, have signed a parliamentary motion demanding the Government intervene and "prevent this strategic rail route being lost forever".

Ms Smith told The Star: "We want to be sure the short term interests of the National Grid do not compromise the long term interests of the Northern economy."

Graham Stringer, the MP for Blackley in Manchester who tabled the Early Day Motion, added: "If we are going to increase rail capacity we have to reopen lines like the Woodhead tunnel.

"Without doing that, we cannot reach any of the projections the Government is predicting."

There are three separate tunnels on the Woodhead route, between Woodhead in Derbyshire and Dunford Bridge, near Penistone.

At the time of its completion in 1845, Woodhead 1 was one of the world's longest railway tunnels at a length of three miles and 13 yards.

The construction of the tunnel claimed the lives of 26 men, injured another 140, and cost more than three times the original estimate of £60,000.

The last passenger train used the route in 1970 and it closed to freight trains in 1981.

Professor David Begg, of the Northern Way economic development group, said the future of disused rail infrastructure was "critical" in the economic future of the region.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said the Government had no plans to reopen existing lines but "would not rule out strong proposals".