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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Guardian Article - Tuesday 6th April 2010

I'd like to draw the attention of those who missed it to an article written by Christian Wolmar in the Guardian, Tuesday 6th April, entitled 'Lib Dems ducking the issue on railways'.

At this point you might ask 'Why does it matter what the Lib Dems say or think about the future of rail, as they will never be in power anyhow?' or even 'What has this got to do with the Woodhead line?' Patience, patience, all will be revealed in due course.

What struck me though was the very fact that the future of rail is being discussed so prominently during election fever season and also that there is some discussion about spending money on trains at the expense of roads, something that hasn't happened in decades. Promising. Promising.

The article is a response to the Lib Dem transport spokesman Norman Baker who wants to cut capital spending on roads by £3 billion and use it to expand the rail network by reopening thousands of miles of railway tracks and stations instead!

Here is a link to the said article by Mr Baker:

There is also a short news video (1 min 17 secs) to be found on the same page as the above link, which is worth a minute of your time.

This is very interesting from a Woodhead point of view because when asked about which lines might be reopened he replies 'many of those that were closed down during the Beeching era, particularly those where the track bed has been protected by local authorities'. He is critical of the government's concentration on high speed trains and is much more interested in opening small sections of track that can have wider network benefits. Aah! I see the scales beginning to fall from your eyes oh nerdy ones.

Here's another slightly longer video link (3 mins 42 secs) : where Prof John Whitelegg, who apparently specialises in sustainable transport pours cold water on the plans, suggesting that the sums don't add up - but hey, isn't that why the Mottram-Tinsle bypass collapsed!?

If you go back to the Guardian article:

you will find that several comments have been posted from readers that have already made the connection, which I copy below. The first is by Monkeybummer (shouldn't be allowed) :-

"Re-open the Woodhead tunnels!

Get the freight off the A57 and A628 and back onto the railways, get the lorries out of the Peak District National Park, get rid of the bottleneck coming in and out of Manchester.

Personally I find it unacceptable that it currently takes a minimum of two hours to get from Glossop to Sheffield by public transport when they're only 25 miles apart.

I'm sure there are similar circumstances to this up and down the country. Invest in local railways!"

Here is a reply by Circlesonic:-

"Re-open the Woodhead tunnels!

As a bit of a train "buff" - and one who has an interest in the old Woodhead line - I'd be 100% with you on that point. Except, I'm sure you are aware of one of the main blocks to re-opening the Woodhead tunnels to rail traffic: the National Grid, who want to run high-voltage power cables through them (and in so doing, put the tunnels beyond rail use, perhaps for good).

Last I heard (c. 2008), the Government had given the green light to the NG to get started, so for all I know, we may be past the point of no return on this score (more's the pity). Ironic, given that until this morning, we've had one of the most pro-rail Transport Secretaries in office in years (Lord Adonis) - he kicked off the drive to electrify the London-Bristol line, but couldn't (wouldn't?) stop the Woodhead tunnels being put beyond rail use?

"Men and nations behave wisely once they've exhausted all other alternatives", indeed..."

and back to Monkeybummer:-

"Aye, I heard about the National Grid cable malarky. It seems like an excuse to me, because as you probably know there are three tunnels running through those hills, the two original ones and the larger one that was built in the 50s.

I don't understand why they can't put their cables in the old ones and re-open the newer one for trains. It was built for the first high-speed electric trains wasn't it? There's a plaque celebrating this in Piccadilly station. Perhaps there's a good reason why the cables can't go in the older tunnels, but I can't think of one."

So by now you will all have hopefully understood the potential significance of the debate to Woodhead but what of the significance of Norman Baker and his party?

Well, whilst the man currently in charge, Lord Adonis is good enough for me and certainly an improvement on his predecessors, there is also a chance that in the event of a hung Parliament and a two Party pact, that Norman Baker could just be the main man in Transport post-election. Just a thought.

Now it's over to you, trans-Pennine train lovers. Talk is cheap but comment is free.