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Thursday, 17 January 2008

Glossop Chronicle: Woodhead Tunnel protest spells it out (David Jones)

An article from today's Glossop Chronicle about last Saturday's demonstration at Woodhead, by David Jones:

**this article mistakenly calls our campaign 'Friends of the Woodhead Tunnel' - we are 'Save the Woodhead Tunnel'. Also, the demonstration group was not 'organised by groups opposed to the Longdendale Bypass' as it states, although anti-bypass groups and individuals were and are involved**

Sixty protesters took a trip to the closed and shuttered Woodhead Tunnel entrance on Saturday to say why the line should be re-opened.

And many more arrived after the official demonstration to demand the National Grid (sic) halt plans to push power cables through it.

They were unanimous that the rail bed under the Pennines should get a new lease of life - trains carrying lorries between South Yorkshire and Manchester.

And they called for a national rail strategy ensuring the 1954 tunnel becomes the centerpiece of a Trans-Pennine high speed link, connecting the North West to east coast ports and ultimately the continent. They want politicians to work together towards this common aim.

The protest meeting was organised by groups opposed to the Longdendale Bypass under the blanket name 'Friends of the Woodhead Tunnel'.

For more than an hour speaker after speaker stressed the importance of re-opening the 53 year-old tunnel to freight and taking trucks off the A628.

And they had a message for the power giants planning to switch tunnels because the nearby Victorian versions they currently use are deteriorating - FIX THEM!

The groups are united in the belief that road building is not the 'quick-fix solution' to congestion problems. Translink - fronted by local resident Julian Newton - has produced a business plan for reopening the line. Its website has links to Hupak which provides similar roll-on, roll-off lorry services in Italy and Switzerland.

MEP Chris Davies said the Woodhead Tunel track was the only electrified main line in Europe to have closed. He said Woodhead should be the basis of a Norther high speed line.

He added that while Britain's rail system only had 68 miles passed for high speeds - the Channel Tunnel link - France has 1,000 miles with another 5000 planned.

Mr Davies criticised the 'short-sighted, short-term thinking' of successive governments', when the region should have been provided with modern, continental style links.

Saving Woodhead he maintained was the last opportunity to look to the future. But instead of government departments engaging in 'sensible, joined up thinking,' there was the 'nonsense of the National Grid taking decisions in isolation.'

The meeting called for the old Victorian tunnels to repaired and cables kept where they are.

Stephen Joseph of the Campaign for Better Transport demanded that the Government should intervene - because rail transport produced seven times less CO2 than road.

Local representatives of the Green Party denied that the Longdendale Trail (built on the track bed) would be destroyed if the line from Woodhead and into Hadfield was re-opened.

Anne Robinson of the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England suggested a compromise - temporarily moving the cables to the 'new' tunnel while remedial work on the Victorian tunnels was carried out.

Colin Elliff, a railway civil engineer who has produced detailed plans for upgrading Britain's rail links, agree that this might be a possible way forward. But he insisted that a 'revived' Woodhead electrified line, complete with its tunnel which had been designed to take the largest continental rolling stock, as the key to the development of a properly linked system of high-speed lines in the North.

Many at the meeting recalled with regret that protests that were organised first against the loss of the line's passenger service in 1970 and in 1981 when the line itself was axed.

The general feeling was that it was time these two 'enormous mistakes' were addressed and out right. And that the line through Woodhead should be seen as an asset in Britain's rail revival.

This would bring the UK in step with the forward looking rail policies of the country's European partners.