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Friday, 25 January 2008

Sheffield Star: Kelly forced to backtrack on Woodhead (Mark Hookham)

An article from today's Sheffield Star about recent comments in the House of Commons by Ruth Kelly (Secretary of State for Transport) regarding Woodhead, by Mark Hookham:

The future of the disused Woodhead tunnel was clouded in confusion today after Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly was forced to backtrack on comments she made in the Commons.
The cabinet minister revealed she has been in contact with National Grid Company and was confident plans to plant electricity cables in the 1953 Woodhead tunnel would not prevent its reopening as a trans-Pennine rail link.

But she was left red-faced as her department was forced to put out a statement clarifying her remarks.

A spokesman explained to The Star that laying the tracks would not prevent the two neighbouring Victorian tunnels from reopening in the future - but would prevent the more modern tunnel from reopening.

This is hotly disputed by MPs who say the Victorian tunnels, which are starting to collapse, are useless because they are unable to accommodate modern trains.

Sheffield's Economic Masterplan states better rail links across the Pennines are crucial - fuelling demands for the Woodhead link to be reopened to provide extra capacity for freight trains.

But it is feared plans by owners National Grid to move cables from the Victorian tunnels into the 1953 tunnel would put the more modern route beyond use.

Sheffield Hillsborough MP Angela Smith used Transport questions in the Commons to urge the government to ensure the National Grid does not use the 1953 tunnel for its cabling.

But Ms Kelly flummoxed MPs by replying: "First, it owns the tunnel and can invest in its own cabling in the tunnel.

"Secondly, it has assured us that even if it did that, it would not preclude reopening the tunnel for freight traffic were the growth of freight traffic to warrant it."

Speaking to The Star after the exchange, Ms Smith insisted it is impossible for trains and the cables to run side-by-side in the 1953 tunnel.

She said: "If a cable needs removing, you have a really expensive railway track over the top of it. It makes it impossible for maintenance work to be carried out."

The Department for Transport was forced to backtrack, saying the "line" - rather than the 1953 tunnel - would not be prevented by the recabling work from reopening in the future. A spokesman explained this could happen by using the Victorian tunnels.