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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Press release: Woodhead tunnel ‘victory’ is wishful thinking

What follows is a new press release stating our position following much recent speculation about the future of the Woodhead Tunnel and Route in recent days:

The fight to secure Woodhead new tunnel for future railway use has only just begun, according to campaigners from ‘Save the Woodhead Tunnel!’. The group, which brings together people with transport and environmental interests, is bemused by recent press coverage suggesting that the battle has been won.

In January, the National Grid began a £50million project to move power cables and equipment from two Victorian tunnels - which it then intends to abandon - into a concrete-lined bore opened by British Rail in 1954. However this tunnel is the only one of the three large enough to accommodate European gauge (W12) freight traffic, demand for which is expected to increase significantly between east and west coast ports over the next 20 years. Existing trans-Pennine rail corridors are already operating at capacity and are not cleared for W12 containers. Unless a new line is opened, it is likely that this traffic will have to be carried by road.

During an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on 11th March 2008, Transport Minister Rosie Winterton said “I propose to meet National Grid in the next few weeks to confirm that the Government wishes to explore further the option of continuing the inspection and maintenance regime for the Victorian tunnels once National Grid has vacated them.”

However, both the National Grid and Network Rail have already stated that they will not fund this work. Unless central government agrees to do so, Ms Winterton’s vague statement is entirely hollow. She does not expect a decision will be made until 2010/2011 so there remains a realistic possibility that the Victorian tunnels will be sealed and nature allowed to take its course. This could effectively scupper any reopening of the Woodhead route in the longer term.

Ms Winterton also repeated that “no Government or rail industry strategy or planning document has identified a need for additional rail capacity across the Pennines that would require the reopening of the Woodhead route.” She went on: “Neither the White Paper (Delivering a Sustainable Railway) nor the Yorkshire and Humber regional planning assessment identified a long-term need for substantial increases in freight capacity across the Pennines…Network Rail published its freight Route Utilisation Strategy in 2007. The only trans-Pennine issue that it identified was a possible need for additional capacity on the south trans-Pennine route through the Hope valley between Sheffield and Manchester.”

These assertions are based on the government’s current transport policy of not looking beyond the end of its nose. They only deal with growth forecasts to 2014 (or 2021 in the case of the Yorkshire and Humber Transport Strategy) and do not encourage a significant modal shift from road to rail, lessening the impact of transport on the environment.

In October 2007, the Northern Way - a collaboration of the north of England’s three regional development agencies - published a report entitled ‘Northern Rail Routes: Demand Study’. It forecasts the potential for growth in container traffic up to 2035, if it was unconstrained by network capacity and gauge issues. As many as 60 additional freight trains per day could be travelling between the new deep sea facility at Teesport and the Port of Liverpool. According to Transport Director John Jarvis “There’s a very strong need for a new [trans-Pennine] line and we think that will be before 2030. Woodhead is a candidate route, that’s why we’re making the case for safeguarding it rather than letting it go.”

Nothing has changed since the National Grid began its work three months ago. Cables will still be installed in the 1954 tunnel; the Victorian tunnels will still be sealed and abandoned in 2011; the government is still committed to its ‘make-do-and-mend’ approach to public transport; it is still in denial about the need for extra trans-Pennine rail capacity, despite robust evidence; ever-increasing volumes of freight are still being forced onto congested roads.

Rosie Winterton concluded the Adjournment Debate by hoping that her “response to the points raised…reassures Honourable Members that the steps that I propose will keep open the option of using the Woodhead route in the long term." Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

A spokesman for the Save the Woodhead Tunnel group said: “It’s not clear whether the government remains ignorant of the issues surrounding Woodhead or is wilfully distorting the evidence in order to support its favoured option of doing absolutely nothing. The case for a new trans-Pennine rail line is strong and Woodhead is a ready-made route. It would bring economic and social benefits to the north of England - far exceeding the costs of construction - as well as helping to meet our climate change commitments. The Government’s lack of vision and adventure is no longer sustainable.”


Anonymous said...

Judging from the last photograph you uploaded,there has been some re-lining of the Tunnels bore.Also
it looks as though some waterproofing membrane has been put
into place.Whatever it is they a planning it has nothing "at all" to
do with the passage of Trains.This
level of finnish is simply not required and it is very very expensive to achieve.Seeing all this convinces me that there are
alternate plans for this Tunnel,which do not include Rail travel.The finnish that they have
gained is compatable with long term storage of noxious chemicals
or even deep Nuclear waste products like Plutonium.

Anonymous said...

Rosie Winterton "the MP for Doncaster" if the tunnel were to put back into use for rail traffic wouldn't Doncaster be passed by,

See where I'm going.

Anonymous said...

When Notwork Rail as I call them, did their freight utilisation plan they probably didn't even consider Woodhead as its not on the rail map at present, besides they've got enough to do making a mess of the rest of the Network without bodging a route through a disused tunnel