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Saturday, 1 March 2008

Sheffield Star: Rail route 'challenge' as tunnel battle won

An article from today's Sheffield Star about moves by politicians to secure the future of the Woodhead Railway line, by Richard Marsden:

Hillsborough MP Angela Smith told today of the challenges ahead to reopen the Woodhead railway after a lengthy battle was won to preserve the route's main tunnel for trains.

Restoring the disused line - which closed in 1981 - is seen as vital for the future economic development of the region, as part of plans to improve trans-Pennine transport links.

It was feared the route could have been lost forever after National Grid, which owns the main Woodhead tunnel, built in 1953, announced plans to move electricity cables into it from neighbouring tunnels which are collapsing.

The company was planning to abandon and brick up the old tunnels - used by trains in Victorian times and the early 20th Century.

But, following pressure by Ms Smith and other MPs, plus environmental campaigners, Friends of the Peak District and other protestors, transport secretary Ruth Kelly stepped in.

And National Grid is now prepared to maintain the Victorian tunnels, so the cables can be moved back when the main tunnel is required for the railway.

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Ms Smith said: "This is a significant development. Under National Grid's original proposal, the Victorian tunnels would have been bricked-up and we would have lost the main tunnel for rail use forever.

"There is now a clear challenge at the door of those who want the route reopened, to make the case that the line is needed. The sooner we can make that case, the quicker we can get the scheme moving."

She told The Star the idea is unlikely in the next five or 10 years but that extra capacity may be required in 15 years, as the Hope Valley railway - the only current trans-Pennine link from South Yorkshire - can accommodate few additional trains.

Restoring the railway line could provide freight and passenger services, she added.

Unlike a completely new road or rail route, the line is intact and has not been built on - and sections on the approach to Manchester and Sheffield remain in use. Just the line between Hadfield, near Glossop, and Deepcar, has been removed.

However, a new bridge would be needed beneath the Stocksbridge bypass and congestion problems would need to be solved at the Manchester end of the line before it can take more trains.

And the most difficult part of the project would be in central Sheffield because the route was built to serve the old Victoria Station, not Midland Station.

A National Grid spokeswoman said: "We are carrying out an essential high voltage cable replacement project through the Woodhead Tunnel.

"The work will not prevent an alternative use of the Victorian tunnels after we have completed the project in 2011.

"If Network Rail or the Department for Transport wish to maintain the Victorian tunnels, National Grid is willing to discuss this option with them."