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.