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Saturday, 26 January 2008

'Rail' magazine: 'Save Woodhead' group oppose power cable plan (Andy Coward)

An article from the latest edition of 'Rail' magazine, with a profile of our group and the campaign issues, by Andy Coward:

Plans by National Grid to lay 400kV electricity power cables through the 'new' tunnel at Woodhead, on the closed Manchesler-Sheffield line, have been fiercely criticised by campaigners trying to safeguard the route for future use.

National Grid (NG) currently has its transpennine power supply carried through one of two singlebore Victorian tunnels which were constructed when the line was first built in 1845 and 1852, but the cabling is coming to the end of its life and the tunnels are now in a poor state of repair.

The power company is therefore proposing laying new cables through the new Woodhead tunnel, which was opened alongside the single-bore tunnels in 1954. This would rule out any restoration of rail services on the route say campaigners.

A 'Save the Woodhead Tunnel' campaign group has been formed seeking to safeguard the 1954 tunnel for future transport use. The group believes that a reopened Woodhead line could play a vital role in meeting the demands for growing railfreight traffic, while also providing better passenger links between Manchester and Sheffield.

The Department for Transport has already approved plans by NG to use the new tunnel for laying its cables but the campaigners think this decision needs to be reconsidered and are calling for preparatory works by NG, which started on January 14, to be stopped.

Campaign co-ordinator Jonathan Atkinson said: "its a really important issue in terms
future rail and freight services, the economic prosperity which would be brought to both sides of the Pennines and the bigger environmental challenges we face at the moment. We believe there is a very strong case against the moves being taken by National Grid."

In early December an Early Day Motion, signed by 50 MPs, was presented by Labour's Graham Stringer calling on the government to intervene on the issue as a matter of urgency ensure the route is not lost forever.

On January 12, more than 60 campaigners gathered at the western portal of the tunnel to stage a protest against the plans.

The 41-mile Woodhead route was closed In 1981, with BR claiming it did not need two lines linking the cities. Despite repeated calls for its be reopened to rail traffic there are currently no firm plans for services to be returned to the route.