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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

An open letter to Rt Hon. Philip Hammond Secretary of State for Transport

e-mail: reopen.woodheadline@googlemail.com
Re-Open The Woodhead Line PO Box 367 Hyde Cheshire SK13 4WD

Rt Hon. Philip Hammond
Secretary of State for Transport
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
LONDON
SW1P 4DR



Dear Mr. Hammond,

Former Woodhead Railway (Manchester – Sheffield)

We would like to see the Government show some foresight and safeguard this route and commit it for future reopening & development. The National Grid are the current owners of the new (1954) Woodhead tunnel and are currently laying high voltage cables through it, thus rendering it unsuitable for rail use in the short to medium term. In contrast our European Swiss neighbours are constructing three new railway tunnels through their mountains! It seems a strange anomaly that there is only one surviving rail route connecting Manchester and Sheffield, when there are three between Manchester and Liverpool. The closure in 1981 represented an appalling lack of vision of the Government of the day. No where else in Western Europe would an electrified railway have been closed between two cities the size of Manchester and Sheffield...

Woodhead was the shortest and quickest rail route between these cities and the new tunnel was built to a high standard. As it is concrete lined, it is not as susceptible to the water ingression which so troubles the older Victorian tunnels through the Pennines. The tunnel was also constructed to a large gauge that would enable continental size railway containers to pass through it and is the only tunnel though the Pennines built to this standard. It would prove to be a much greater engineering challenge and considerably more costly to electrify the remaining Manchester-Sheffield route (Hope Valley) which has three long tunnels, none with sufficient clearance for electrification and in addition reported to be running at capacity. Therefore, to lose Woodhead for potential rail traffic makes no sense and clearly contradicts the Government’s own policy regarding the reduction of carbon emissions and ‘sustainability.’

If the Woodhead route were reopened, it would facilitate a practical commute for people living in the Tameside and Glossop areas to enable them to work in Sheffield, whereas now they can only realistically travel to Manchester by train on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, when maintenance work is undertaken on the Hope Valley route, the Woodhead one would provide a convenient diversionary one, therefore negating the need for those awful rail replacement buses which seem to have become such a feature of “rail” travel in the U.K. The Settle – Carlisle railway was saved from closure in the 1980’s, and this route is often used as a diversionary one when the engineers are engaged on the West Coast one, just to illustrate this point. In addition, the stopping service on the remaining Hope Valley route is very well used by cyclists and walkers etc. as it facilitates leisure opportunities in the White Peak. Reopening Woodhead would do the same in the High Peak area. New stations were constructed at both ends of the new tunnel in the 1950s, however they did not remain open for long.

The previous Government had intimated that the old Victorian Woodhead tunnels would be maintained and inspected. Are you are able to reaffirm the commitment? With modern tunnel boring machines it would be possible to re-bore the old tunnels if necessary. Apparently, their alignment is more conducive to high speed as they are dead straight. Such a route may be required as a spur from the proposed high speed 2 rail development from London to the north.

Will our political leaders ever show forethought and courage or will they just carry on with their stubborn free market dogma? We think this line should be reopened in the strategic national and regional interest. Reopening would be a fitting gesture to the workmen who constructed the new tunnel, some of who are still alive today. There is still a plaque at Manchester Piccadilly railway station commemorating the opening of the New Woodhead tunnel and electrification in 1954; how ludicrous that it was shut just 27 years later! The Scottish Executive is supporting the reopening of the Waverley route in Scotland, which does not connect conurbations the size of Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire. They clearly have more foresight than the administration in London.

The previous Government blocked three interesting proposals to revitalise this route, that by the Central Railway Company, one by Translink and also Arriva trains. As I write these words I can recollect Mr. Prescott excitedly ranting about integrated transport in the early days of the former labour administration. Well, to quote the words of a local transport inspector, “we have not had any integrated transport since before 1986”…


Yours sincerely


David Bryson

Chair, Campaign to reopen the Woodhead Line

1 comments:

Simon said...

Not sure you should have mentioned that there are 3 routes between Manchester and Liverpool. He'll probably close two of them...