An article from today's Bolton News which talks about our demo at Salford Central Railway Station, by Chris Sudlow:
Campaigners fighting to secure Woodhead new tunnel under the Pennines for future railway use have been asked to contribute to the consultation process.
The invitation to contribute to a key government White Paper, T'ransport Challenges', aiming to develop a sustainable transport system, was made by Secretary of State Ruth Kelly following the re-opening of Salford Central station.
Ms Kelly spoke with members of the 'Save the Woodhead Tunnel' group who were demonstrating at the ceremony against the National Grid's use of the tunnel as a cable run for trans-Pennine power cables.
NG's project will make it difficult and expensive to reopen the former Woodhead railway route - something which environmental, transport and business groups see as increasingly necessary.
Freight traffic between east and west coast ports is expected to rise significantly over the next 20 years.
Without a new line across the Pennines, that traffic will have to be carried on congested roads as the existing rail network is already operating close to capacity.
Jonathan Atkinson, one of the campaign's coordinators, told Ms Kelly that there should be "a full, open and democratic investigation into what is happening. At the moment, the National Grid is just taking a decision in the interests of shareholders."
Ruth Kelly told campaigners: "I want to take the decision that's best on this" and recognised the views being expressed by a broad coalition of stakeholders that "Woodhead tunnel could be valuable in the future".
She added: "We've got to get the position right. If there is a case for reopening the line, we'll make sure that the Woodhead tunnel can still be used."
Formal consultation on the White Paper will take place between May and July before publication of the final Transport Challenges' document in January 2009.
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Wednesday, 27 February 2008
An article from today's Bolton News which talks about our demo at Salford Central Railway Station, by Chris Sudlow:
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
An article from today's Sheffield Star about Angela Smith MP meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly, by Richard Marsden:
Hillsborough MP Angela Smith has met with transport secretary Ruth Kelly to press for the threatened Woodhead Tunnel to be retained for future rail development.
She believes it is vital that plans to run electricity cables through the main tunnel, built in 1953 but disused since 1981, do not prevent it being used for trains once more. National Grid currently runs cables through two older, Victorian tunnels, which run alongside the main tunnel, but their condition is deteriorating.
Ms Smith said: "The Woodhead Tunnel is, in my opinion, of vital importance not just to Sheffield but the whole of the north.
"Along with many others, I have long held an ambition to see trains running
through the tunnel again.
"The Woodhead route, if re-opened, could play a key part in reducing congestion on the roads and in encouraging the use of rail for freight traffic.
"I am hopeful that a solution can be found whereby it will be possible to maintain the option of using the 1953 tunnel as part of a new transpennine rail link, as and when it is seen that such a link is required."
Ms Smith is one of 60 MPs who have signed a motion urging the Government to step in and preserve the tunnels for transport. She has also raised the issue in a parliamentary debate on transport.
She has pledged that during the coming months, she will work with fellow MPs from the surrounding area to make the case for the railway to be reopened, providing Sheffield with a second trans-Pennine link.
Monday, 25 February 2008
Save the Woodhead Tunnel Press Release: Ruth Kelly invites the campaign to contribute to Transport White Paper
Campaigners fighting to secure Woodhead new tunnel for future railway use have been asked to contribute to the consultation process on a key government White Paper, ‘Transport Challenges’, aiming to develop a sustainable transport system. The invitation was made by Secretary of State Ruth Kelly following the reopening of Salford Central station on 22nd February 2008.
Ms Kelly spoke with members of the ‘Save the Woodhead Tunnel’ group who were demonstrating at the ceremony against the National Grid’s use of the tunnel as a cable run for trans-Pennine power cables. NG’s project will make it difficult and expensive to reopen the former Woodhead railway route - something which environmental, transport and business groups see as increasingly necessary. Freight traffic between east and west coast ports is expected to rise significantly over the next 20 years. Without a new line across the Pennines, that traffic will have to be carried on congested roads as the existing rail network is already operating close to capacity.
Jonathan Atkinson, one of the campaign’s coordinators, told Ms Kelly that there should be “a full, open and democratic investigation into what is happening. At the moment, the National Grid is just taking a decision in the interests of shareholders.”
Ruth Kelly told campaigners that “I want to take the decision that’s best on this” and recognised the views being expressed by a broad coalition of stakeholders that “Woodhead tunnel could be valuable in the future”. She accepted that “we’ve got to get the position right. If there is a case [for reopening the line], we’ll make sure that the Woodhead tunnel can still be used.”
Formal consultation on the White Paper will take place between May and July before publication of the final ‘Transport Challenges’ document in January 2009.
Sunday, 24 February 2008
Saturday, 23 February 2008
An article from today's Manchester Evening News about the reopening of Salford Central railway station mentions our demonstration, by Alan Salter:
Two government ministers have celebrated Salford's new £5m station.
Transport Secretary and Bolton MP Ruth Kelly officially re-opened the city's Central Station.
The improvements, paid for by Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and Manchester Enterprises, include almost 500 square metres of glass to create a new entrance hall and ticket office.
Among the VIPs waiting for the Transport Secretary was another cabinet member, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears.
Dozens of police were on duty as protesters from the Save The Woodhead Tunnel campaign gathered outside.
They are campaigning to both politicians to prevent National Grid laying power cables through the 1954 tunnel which would make it difficult to re-open the rail line between Manchester and Sheffield.
Ms Kelly said of the new-look station: "This is not just the story of the regeneration of Salford, it is the regeneration of the railway."
And GMPTA chairman Coun Roger Jones said: "This is just the first phase. If we can get the funds, this station will be a mini Piccadilly Station within a decade."
Thursday, 21 February 2008
(photo credit - And-rew)
We are today calling another demonstration to further our cause.
Tomorrow, Salford Central Railway Station is being ceremonially re-opened by both the Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, who is also the local MP for Salford.
Whilst we welcome the development of any railway station, we feel that the potential destruction of a national asset such as Woodhead by National Grid should not be ignored by this government and we plan to use every possible opportunity we can to remind the Secretary of State of this.
Details of the demo are as follows:
Date: Friday, 22nd February 2008
Time: 12.00 p.m. (for 12.30 p.m.)
Place: Salford Central Railway Station, New Bailey Street, Salford, M3 5ET
Station information is here. The station is very easily accessible - it is only a few hundred yards from the junction of Bridge Street & Deansgate in Central Manchester.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
An article from today's This is Lancashire about Campaign supporter Chris Davies MEP's comments that reopening Woodhead can facilitate links from Lancashire to Europe via a High Speed line (also published in the Lancashire Evening Post and Rochdale Online - from a press release by Chris Davies MEP):
A 225mph high speed rail link must be built to connect Blackpool with the Channel Tunnel if the North West is to avoid becoming a transport backwater, says one of the region's MEPs.
Chris Davies is calling for the Government to make an immediate announcement that Britain will follow the rest of Europe in building new high-speed lines.
France has more than 1,000 miles of high-speed track in place with a further 500 miles in the pipeline.
By contrast the UK has just 68 miles, from London to the Channel Tunnel.
The Liberal Democrat has accused Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly of pursuing a "make do and mend" policy that lets down the region.
The MEP claims the North West of England deserves to be served by a dedicated high speed line linking the major cities and towns with London and the Channel Tunnel.
He said: "Given the cost savings to be made by sharing much of the infrastructure with Yorkshire and the North East the obvious access route would be a line passing under the Peak District Park by way of Woodhead Tunnel."
But the MEP says that Woodhead Tunnel, a crucial link to the North West, is to be blocked by works being carried out by National Grid.
The Woodhead line between Manchester and Sheffield was closed in 1981 but is in a good state of repair and could be quickly reopened. But National Grid are in the process of relaying one of the main East-West electricity cables through the tunnel ruling out future rail use without the considerable expense of moving cables.
In a letter to Ruth Kelly the MEP claims Britain, and the North West in particular, is in European terms being left as a transport backwater.
He writes: "While the rest of Europe powers ahead with the construction of high speed lines fit for 225 mph trains we are to expect nothing more from this Government than a transport policy best described as one of make do and mend.'"
"I ask you to take a lead in championing the case for construction of a dedicated high-speed line to our region.
"Given the time that the planning process will consume, if its construction is to be completed before 2020 the Government cannot afford to wait another day before announcing a firm declaration of intent."
Saturday, 2 February 2008
On 30th January, Secretary of State Ruth Kelly appeared before the House of Commons Transport Committee and answered questions on the National Grid’s (NG) intention to install power cables through the newest of Woodhead’s three disused railway tunnels, opened in 1954.
The route is seen as strategically important by regional business and transport bodies as the existing trans-Pennine rail lines are now working close to capacity. Research published in 2007 by the Northern Way proves that the potential demand for rail container traffic across the Pennines could not be accommodated by the existing network.
The case for reopening the Woodhead route is compelling but the cabling project would scupper it as only the 1954 tunnel can accommodate trains with a European loading gauge. The two Victorian tunnels - one of which currently has National Grid power cables running through it - are much smaller and, according to NG, in a state of disrepair.
But it would seem that Ruth Kelly and her department are not particularly interested in freight. It doesn’t have a vote or complain very loudly, after all. She told the Transport Committee that “were the business case to materialise for passenger transport in future, then…the fact that the National Grid has laid cables in those [Victorian] tunnels would not preclude their use in the future.”
However, at a meeting on 14th January, members of the ‘Save the Woodhead Tunnel’ campaign were informed by NG’s project team that after its existing cables had been removed from the Victorian tunnels, they would be sealed up and no longer maintained.
Financially, the implications of using the older tunnels for rail are staggering. A campaign co-ordinator said: “The National Grid told us that the cost of refurbishing those Victorian tunnels would be £165 million. On that basis, if a new Woodhead line was forced to use them, it would effectively double the project costs. That could tip it over the edge of viability.
And if the taxpayer did stump-up over £300 million, we would have a new railway which could not accommodate modern freight trains. For anyone with their head screwed on, that makes no sense logistically, economically or environmentally.”
At the 14th January meeting, NG asserted that the issue of a railway through the 1954 tunnel could be looked at again in 40 years time, when its new cables will be at the end of their asset life. Not according to Ruth Kelly. She informed the committee that “were the new tunnel to be needed, then I think those cables would have to be relaid. Now that’s one of the issues that I’m looking at at the moment. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be an expense associated with that.”
That extra expense could make the difference between a new railway being viable or not.
In 15 years, another trans-Pennine rail line will need to have been built. And it will be needed to carry freight. The right decisions must be taken now. The only reasonable course of action is for the government to require the National Grid to make the Victorian tunnels fit for its own purposes and to install the new power cables through them.
As some of you may know, the Secretary of State for Transport, Ruth Kelly, appeared before the House of Commons Transport Committee in the Houses of Parliament last Wednesday (30th January 2008). She was presenting the Department of Transport's Annual Report for 2007, but faced some questions about Woodhead from some of the panel. A video of the exchanges about Woodhead is below, followed by a transcript for those who'd rather read. We have published our own response to this as a Press Release here.
Graham Stringer MP: Given that you’ve said, Secretary of State, that “I’m not quite sure where we’re going because all options have to be looked at”, don’t you think protecting old lines that aren’t in use as railway lines should be part of that cautious approach to not knowing everything that might happen over the next five years. And, very specifically, because you answered a question on the floor of the house last week, can you tell us what your position is vis-à-vis the Woodhead tunnel.
Ruth Kelly MP: I certainly agree with you that if we believe that there’s a reasonable case to be made that a disused line should be brought back into use at some point in the foreseeable future then we ought to make provision to safeguard the use of that line, other things being equal. Now I know that you’ve been interested in the Woodhead tunnel and I have gone and looked at this personally and….
Stringer: The tunnel or the issue?
Kelly: …and I understand there are three tunnels - two are Victorian tunnels and a slightly newer tunnel. The National Grid owns these tunnels and it’s going to lay cables through the more modern of the tunnels. My Department has been in contact, on my behalf, with the National Grid and they have informed me that were the business case to materialise - the demand to materialise basically - for passenger transport in future, then it would be possible to use those…..
I mean, the fact that the National Grid has laid cables in those tunnels would not preclude their use in the future. Now that’s an important factor, I think, in any decision.
Another point has been raised - I’ll be completely honest with the committee here - about freight. Now I know this has been identified by The Northern Way as a priority and I am currently having a look to satisfy myself that we have sufficient flexibility in future to ensure that any sensible decisions on freight, that may or may not arise, could be taken.
Kelly: The issue of the Woodhead tunnel has specifically arisen because The Northern Way has identified this as one of its priorities.
David Clelland MP: Are you saying, Secretary of State, that the National Grid are going to lay their cables in such a way as they would not interfere with the tunnel being used, or are you saying that they are going to lay their cables but there may have to be some alterations if the tunnel is used after that which, obviously, that will add to the cost of bringing the tunnel back into use.
Kelly: I think there are two possibilities here. I think it’s either the case that the old tunnels could be used for rail services or indeed were the new tunnel to be needed, then I think those cables would have to be relaid. Now that’s one of the issues that I’m looking at at the moment.
Clelland: So they are not going to lay the cables in such a way that the tunnel will be able to be brought back into use without them having to be altered again.
Kelly: They have given us the assurance that their laying of the cables in this tunnel would not preclude their future use. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be an expense associated with that, but it would not preclude their future use.
Friday, 1 February 2008
An article from today's Manchester Evening News about an attempt to ask Hazel Blears MP to intervene in the ongoing Woodhead campaign, by Alan Salter:
Campaigners hoping to save the historic Woodhead rail tunnel are calling on Salford MP Hazel Blears to intervene.
National Grid is preparing to lay new electricity cables through the tunnel, which would make it difficult for trains to pass through ever again. British Rail ended using the route in 1984.
As a utility, National Grid does not need planning permission and the Department for Transport and the Peak National Park have decided not to intervene.
But the campaign to save the tunnel for future rail use between Manchester and Sheffield is gathering momentum.
Now Communities and Local Government Secretary Mrs Blears is being asked to step in and do what her fellow Greater Manchester MP, Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, will not.
Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority chairman Coun Roger Jones - a member of Salford council, where Mrs Blears once served - has written to ask if she will to order an investigation into the tunnel's future.
More than 140 people have contacted their MPs, asking them to sign a parliamentary petition, and 59 MPs have already signed a motion from Blackley MP Graham Stringer protesting at the move.
He is applying for an Adjournment Debate, so that a minister would have to answer MPs' questions on the issue for an hour and a half.
The Northern Way, a coalition of the three Northern Regional Development Agencies, has joined the call for the line to be protected, arguing that additional rail capacity across the Pennines will be critical to the economic future of the North.
Dozens of local campaigners have already protested at the mouth of the tunnel earlier this month.
Coun Jones's letter says: "The Woodhead route between the two conurbations provides the opportunity to increase the capacity of the rail network, in the medium to long term, at relatively low cost, providing the alignment (including these tunnels) is kept available for use."
It adds: "I propose that National Grid and Network Rail should conduct a joint study into the likely long-term requirements of both the electricity and rail industries."
A spokesman at Mrs Blears office said that the Department for Transport would reply.
An article from today's Yorkshire Post about Ruth Kelly's recent comments on the future of the Woodhead Tunnel, by Tom Smithard:
A last-ditch campaign to save a Pennines tunnel from the clutches of the National Grid could receive a significant boost through the involvement of a key Cabinet Minister, the Yorkshire Post has learnt.
Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly is said to have grown increasingly interested in the future of the Woodhead tunnel, a five-mile link between Sheffield and Manchester that could prove the key to introducing a new high-speed or specialist freight line into the region.
As it stands the Woodhead tunnel, opened as a prestige electrified line in the 1950s but closed in 1981 and unused since, is about to house a 400kv electricity cable which the National Grid says is essential to keeping Manchester powered.
Cables are currently run through Victorian tunnels parallel to the newer tunnel but have come to the end of their life and will be replaced in a £50m project expected to start next year.
National Grid says it would be impossible to lay new cables in the tight, deteriorating Victorian tunnels while keeping the power to Manchester running – and it needs to use the newer, wider and safer tunnel.
But campaigners say the 1950s tunnel provides an ideal route for a new rail line between the two cities, and allowing National Grid to lay its cables next year will close the door.
In a Parliamentary answer last week Ms Kelly said she was "committed" to keeping "all options on the table" and was in active discussions with National Grid on the tunnel's future.
But she also said it would be possible to run trains and electricity cables through the tunnel together – something no side believes possible – which forced the Department for Transport (DfT) to issue an embarrassing clarification afterwards.
However, sources have told the Yorkshire Post that Ms Kelly, who last year failed to respond to a letter from the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly pleading for help in saving the tunnel, has taken it upon herself to personally find a solution.
The National Grid last night said it would be happy to work on a compromise.
Spokeswoman Stephanie VanRosse said: "Anything is possible if the political will is there but we're not getting the message from official channels that we need to stop work and have a rethink.
"The bottom line is that we need to keep the lights on in Manchester, now and in the future. Our assets have come to an end of their life and unless there are definite plans in place to reopen the tunnel as a rail line then we can't go any further than we have."
One option would be for the National Grid to run the lines overland via electricity pylons, which would be cheaper than strengthening the tunnel.
But as the land covered is in the Peak District and the company has a policy of not building in national parks, it would need a firm sign from the Government before National Grid could proceed down that route.
Pressure to keep the tunnel available for a future railway line is growing. Sheffield Hillsborough MP Angela Smith has secured the support of 60 MPs in her campaign to stop National Grid moving in.
She said: "Pressure is growing on the Government to force National Grid to look again at its plans for the Woodhead tunnel. I intend to step up the campaign myself to secure an adjournment debate in Westminster in order to take the matter further."
A spokesman for the DfT would not comment last night on Ms Kelly's involvement.