People power resists cable plan

  • Author: Graeme Bickerdike
  • Source: RailStaff newspaper
  • Published: January 2008

People power resists cable plan

A coalition of politicians, transport groups and environmental campaigners have come together to oppose the National Grid’s use of Woodhead New tunnel as a route for power cables.

The company owns all three of the disused railway tunnels which cut through the hills for three miles between Dunford Bridge in South Yorkshire and Longdendale in Derbyshire. Currently a 400kV supply, linking a power station near Doncaster with Greater Manchester, is carried inside one of two single bore Victorian structures. Despite an investment of £15million on repairs, these are in poor condition. With the cables almost life-expired, NG now intends to install new ones in an adjacent double track tunnel opened by British Rail as recently as 1954.

The National Grid has consulted with the government and was told that the tunnel would not be needed for future rail use.

Although freight traffic on Britain’s railways is expected to grow by almost 30% over the next decade, there are no plans to reinstate any old lines. Instead the capacity of our existing network will be increased. However both the Yorkshire Regional Transport Strategy and South Pennine Integrated Transport Strategy endorse the reinstatement of the Woodhead line which was closed controversially in 1981. Any future resurrection for freight use would effectively be scuppered by the National Grid’s work.

The National Grid’s power lines will be moved from one of Woodhead’s Victorian single bores into British Rail’s 1954 tunnel.

Two years ago, Translink proposed a £159million scheme to create a ‘rolling highway’ over the route, with lorries being piggy-backed on low-floor rail wagons. The company claimed that the number of HGVs using the notorious A628 road, which runs partly through the Peak District National Park, could have been cut by 90%. The idea was considered by the Highways Agency before opting for a bypass.

Politicians on both sides of the Pennines have voiced their opposition to NG’s plan. An Early Day Motion urging the government to intervene has been signed by 44 members of parliament. High Peak MP Tom Levitt said “As transport and climate change issues grow in importance and priority, the chance of taking thousands of tons of freight off our roads and putting it on rail on this important trans-Pennine route must be preserved.”

Gwyneth Dunwoody MP, who chairs the Transport Select Committee told RailStaff that she would be “very disturbed if decisions were being taken which blocked off the development of a railway. I would always support anyone who wanted to protect a part of the system which might be needed for future use.”

Shortly before Christmas, local activists met to prepare a campaign against the cabling scheme and a rally was planned at Woodhead’s western portal on 12th January. “We understand completely that the National Grid has a commitment to provide electricity” said Anne Robinson of environmental pressure group Friends of the Peak District, “but the rail implications have not been fully thought through. It’s up to central government to step in and it’s taking a very short-sighted view. We need to be thinking big, long and hard – 20 years ahead, not five years.”

According to campaign co-ordinator Jonathan Atkinson, “It’s a really important issue in terms of future rail and freight services, the economic prosperity which would be brought to both sides of the Pennines and the bigger environmental challenges we face at the moment. Although it’s getting a green light from government, we believe there is a very strong case against the moves being taken here.”

Preparatory works in the tunnel should start this month, with the cables due to be installed during 2009.