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.”
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Tuesday, 25 March 2008
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:
Thursday, 20 March 2008
Another overly-optimistic article, this time from today's Glossop Chronicle, about politicians statements on Woodhead, by David Jones:
A government minister has signalled the green light for trains to again run through Woodhead Tunnel.
Re-opening the link under the Pennines seemed a non-starter when the National Grid announced plans to string power lines through it.
But in a House of Commons debate, Transport Secretary Rosie Winterton hinted that trains could be on track sometime in the future.
She told MPs: “National Grid’s plans will not jeopardise the possibility that the Woodhead Tunnel will reopen to rail traffic at some future date.”
It was a response that delighted Sheffield Hillsborough MP Angela Smith, who sponsored the debate, and Tom Levitt.
High Peak’s MP - who also took part in the discussion - said: “This is a victory for common sense and forward thinking. Our task now is to demonstrate to government and Network Rail that Woodhead is not only a possible option but the best option for improving Trans-Pennine freight movement.”
The news means that measures will effectively be put in place to make sure that any reopening of the Woodhead Tunnel as a railway link is not jeopardised by National Grid’s plans.
National Grid’s proposals to transfer their high voltage cables from the Victorian tunnels to the 1953 tunnel will carry on.
But in such a way that they won’t stop trains travelling through the tunnel sometime in the future. The power company will complete their work in 2010 or 2011.
From that point the older tunnels will no longer have a use but will continue to be inspected and maintained.
This will ensure that if and when the 1953 tunnel is required for the reinstallation of a rail track, the high voltage cables can be transferred back into the older tunnels in a cost effective way.
The Transport Minister’s statement marks a successful outcome by those who think a rail link through Woodhead Tunnel could boost the economies of the North West and Yorkshire.
Campaigners, backed by Mr Levitt and many Glossopdale residents, believe that rail freight is the best environmental option for carrying in bulk.
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
An overly optimistic article from today's Glossop Advertiser about politicians statements on the situation with Woodhead, by Tom Rowley:
Campaigners are celebrating after the Woodhead Tunnel was saved for future rail use.
Transport minister Rosie Winterton has confirmed that the option of using Woodhead for rail once more will now be retained
Campaigners believe that rail freight is the best environmental option for carrying in bulk.
There had been concerns that National Grid’s plans to transfer their high-voltage cables from the Victorian tunnels to the 1953 tunnel would jeopardise such a move.
In a parliamentary debate Mrs Winterton told MPs: "National Grid’s plans will not jeopardise the possibility that the Woodhead Tunnel will reopen to rail traffic at some future date."
Glossop MP Tom Levitt also took part in the debate and welcomed the outcome.
"This is a victory for common sense and forward thinking," he said. Our task now is to demonstrate to government and Network Rail that Woodhead is not only a possible option but the best option for improving Trans-Pennine freight movement."
Under the government’s plans, National Grid will complete its work in 2010 or 2011.
The older tunnels will no longer have a use but will continue to be inspected and maintained. This will ensure that if and when the 1953 tunnel is required for the reinstallation of a rail track, the high-voltage cables can be transferred back into the older tunnels in a cost-effective way.
Green campaigners and supporters of rail travel are hailing the minister’s pledge as a successful outcome to a campaign by those who think that a restored rail link through the Woodhead Tunnel could boost the economies of Glossop, the North West and Yorkshire.
Jonathan Atkinson, Glossop co-ordinator for the campaign, said: "What we really need is a firm commitment on a budget and for the tunnel re-opening to be included in the next White Paper.
"People will be able to get out and use the countryside more. People working in Sheffield and all down that line will be able to use the train and it will help reduce climate change."
An article from today's Manchester Evening News about the latest political statements regarding Woodhead, by Alan Salter:
The government has deferred a decision on reviving Woodhead Tunnel as a rail route - saying it has not seen a need to re-open the tunnel to trains so far.
The decision will now be made in three years.
Train enthusiasts launched a campaign to preserve the trans-Pennine tunnel, a route which linked Manchester and Sheffield, after plans were announced to lay electricity cables inside. The campaigners fear this will spell the end for any hopes of reviving the Woodhead Tunnel as a rail route in the future.
In a debate on the tunnel in the Commons, Sheffield Hillsborough MP Angela Smith said: "Rail passenger numbers are growing faster in the north than in the rest of the country and there is increasing demand for rail freight.
"The Woodhead rail route offers the most cost-efficient option for building trans-Pennine capacity in the long term." Transport Minister Rosie Winterton said campaigners had nothing to fear about the plans to lay the cables but indicated that the government was not convinced of a need to keep the tunnel open.
She said: "National Grid's plans will not jeopardise the possibility that the Woodhead tunnel route will reopen to rail traffic at some future date."
She said the government would consider any fresh evidence in favour of supporting the preservation of the Woodhead Tunnel and a final decision will be made in 2011 when the National Grid plans to seal up the tunnel. If the government decides that there may be future need for a rail link, the National Grid would be required to carry on maintaining the abandoned tunnel and stop it from deteriorating.
However, the minister added: "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."
An Early Day Motion calling on the government to intervene and `prevent this strategic rail route being lost forever' has been signed by more than 70 MPs from all parties.
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
An article from today's Sheffield Star about the continuing wrangle of Woodhead's future, by Mark Hookham:
The Woodhead Tunnel route does not need to reopen to improve South Yorkshire's rail network, a minister has insisted.
Transport minister Rosie Winterton told MPs that neither the Government, the rail industry nor local transport chiefs have identified a need to substantially boost the number of freight trains crossing the Pennines.
She said a decision will be made in 2010 or 2011 over whether to permanently seal the two Victorian Woodhead tunnels - a move which would kill off hopes that the route could be reopened.
Ms Winterton, the MP for Doncaster Central, made her comments during a parliamentary debate secured by Sheffield Hillsborough MP Angela Smith.
Ms Smith wants the 1953 Woodhead Tunnel to be reopened - boosting the entire northern economy, by cutting journey times between Sheffield and Manchester and allowing freight containers to be moved from the North Sea ports across the Pennines.
Her campaign is under threat because the tunnel owners, National Grid, plan to move electricity cables from the two decaying Victorian tunnels into the more modern tunnel. Any decision to then seal the older tunnels and keep the cables in the 1953 tunnel would prevent the route reopening. Ms Smith said: "The whole point of reopening the Woodhead line would be to enable passengers, as well as freight, to travel more quickly.
"In relation to travel to work, the economic benefits of easier access to workplaces are obvious."
Ms Winterton made it clear that there is currently little enthusiasm among ministers and rail chiefs for the route to be brought back into use.
She said: "I am sure she realises 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 said Network Rail had only identified a need to increase freight capacity on one of the three trans-pennine rail routes - the Hope Valley line between Sheffield and Manchester.
Wednesday, 12 March 2008
An article from today's Fleetwood Weekly News about the Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons yesterday:
An MP has urged ministers to reopen a train route linking Manchester to Sheffield to cope with more passengers and freight demands.
Angela Smith, Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough, claimed reopening the Woodhead line was the most "cost-effective option" of better trans-Pennine links.
She said reopening the line would be a "Crossrail for the North".
National Grid, however, plans to lay cables in the 1953 Woodhead tunnel, which Ms Smith said could put the scheme at risk.
In a Westminster Hall debate, Ms Smith called for a halt to the National Grid plans unless they could guarantee the cables could be moved into two smaller Victorian tunnels "as and when" the larger 1953 tunnel was required to be brought back into use.
Transport Minister Rosie Winterton assured Ms Smith: "National Grid's plans will not jeopardise the possibility that the Woodhead tunnel route might reopen to rail traffic at some future date."
But she said there were no immediate plans to reopen the route.
If there was a need to increase capacity on trans-Pennine rail routes, enhancements to the three existing lines would be considered first, she said.
"If an analysis of capacity on those routes concludes that an option of an additional route ought to be investigated, the Woodhead route for rail use can still be considered," she said.
Tuesday, 11 March 2008
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I think that this is my first opportunity to speak under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow, and it is not unwelcome. The debate is about the future of the very important Woodhead rail route, which crosses the Pennines from Sheffield to Manchester. The campaign to have the rail route reopened has attracted much interest. The case for reopening it, which is well encapsulated by the slogan “Crossrail for the north”, is supported not only by campaign groups such as the Campaign for Better Transport and Friends of the Peak Park but by the Northern Way group, the city councils of Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds, and IPPR North. That body said:
“The main rail links within the north—particularly on the trans-Pennine corridor and between Liverpool and Manchester and Leeds and Sheffield—are not fit for purpose. Failure to invest in these links is likely to lead to increased congestion on rail and road links…and additional domestic air travel”.
Apart from the environmental case that I have outlined, what is the case for reopening the rail route? Rail passenger numbers are growing faster in the north than in the rest of the country, and there is increasing demand for rail freight. With a population of 14.5 million, the north is equivalent to a medium-sized European country, such as Sweden. It has a large internal market and its economy is worth in excess of £200 billion. The north has undergone a revival in the past nine years—I would say, of course, that that is thanks to the Labour Government. Its economy is stronger now than at any time in the past 40 years, and employment is at a post-war high.
Research recently published by the Northern Way shows that potential demand to move containers to and from the north’s ports and across the Pennines is in excess of what the railway network can currently accommodate. In an earlier debate today, it was mentioned that Immingham alone carries 20 per cent. of the in-and-out freight traffic of the United Kingdom; 64 million tonnes of freight go through that port alone. If we add Grimsby and Hull to that, we see just how important the Humber estuary is to the north’s economy.
Based on the work that the Northern Way has carried out to date, it is likely that a new higher-speed rail route across the Pennines will need to be built in the next 15 to 20 years or so. Successful delivery of the Northern Way’s goal of closing the £30 billion productivity gap in relation to the north’s economy will result in faster rates of passenger growth than the Government assumed in the recent White Paper, “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”.
The view of the groups that I named earlier, as well as of the many MPs who have signed early-day motion 459, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), is that the Woodhead rail route offers the most cost-efficient option for building trans-Pennine capacity in the long term. It also offers the most environmentally sustainable option. Indeed, the view is that only the 1953 Woodhead tunnel route offers the prospect of a broadly non-contentious means of enhancing cross-Pennine capacity sustainably. The alternative would be a brand new route, which would entail large-scale tunnelling, the cost and environmental consequences of which could militate against its adoption as the preferred policy. That is why there is such opposition to any use of the 1953 tunnel by National Grid for recabling work, unless there is a commitment from National Grid to maintain all three tunnels and to return the cabling to the Victorian tunnels as and when the rail route is required to be brought back into use.
There is an economic case and an environmental case for a Crossrail for the north. The economic case is strong. The existing Hope Valley line is exactly that—much of the time, those who use it do so more in the hope than the expectation of getting to their destination—and there never was a more inappropriately named rail service than the Manchester airport “express” from Cleethorpes to Manchester. I shall give some examples. The journey from Sheffield to Manchester airport on that line, a distance of 30 miles, takes a minimum of one hour and 20 minutes. Sheffield to Newcastle, a distance of 134 miles, takes two hours and 20 minutes—two hours minimum, actually. Doncaster to London—a route well known to my right hon. Friend the Minister—takes a minimum of one and three quarter hours; that is for a distance of 140 miles. The case is clear.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): My hon. Friend represents one end of the Woodhead tunnel and I represent the other. She is absolutely right when she talks of the Hope Valley line, which is not even capable of running fast—I use the word euphemistically—and slow trains at the same time, let alone taking significant amounts of freight. Does she agree that over the years there has also been considerable support from the private sector for the Woodhead freight route, which would take pressure off Hope and the other existing trans-Pennine routes?
Ms Smith: My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, I was contacted only yesterday by one of those companies about this issue. The Woodhead line used to take Sheffielders to Manchester and vice versa in half an hour. That is the improvement offered and that is why there is a much better option for freight on the Woodhead line. We clearly need new capacity, and the Woodhead route offers the potential to link effectively to the east coast and west coast main line networks.
Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. Does she agree that investment in transport needs channelling in the right direction? The fact that it takes just over two hours to go from Wakefield to London by train and that it takes 40 minutes to go from Halifax to Wakefield, which is 10 miles away, speaks volumes. Does she agree that the investment needs to be in the regional links that link to the main line stations, such as Leeds and Wakefield, to improve travelling times and connections?
Ms Smith: My hon. Friend is right. The whole point of reopening the Woodhead line would be to enable passengers, as well as freight, to travel more quickly. In relation to travel to work, the economic benefits of easier access to workplaces are obvious. The Northern Way has demonstrated the wider economic benefits of a national high-speed rail network linking London with the north-west and with Scotland and the north-east, and of a trans-Pennine link. Crucially, that integrated network would offer a means of addressing the locational disadvantage of the north in terms of access to markets, to the world financial centre that is tantalisingly close—of course, I am speaking about London—and to the key international gateways, which are our ports and airports.
The benefits could be as much as £10 billion nationally, £3.5 billion of which would be in the north. Apparently, £3.5 billion of the benefit would also be to London itself, which does not tap into the economic potential of the north as well as it might. Inclusion of a trans-Pennine link adds a remarkable 40 per cent. to the economic benefit to the north from such an investment.
The proposal for a Crossrail for the north would not only add significant value to the north’s economy but could change the perception that investors, business and graduates have of the north’s potential as a career and investment destination.
Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an unanswerable case for reserving the Woodhead tunnel for future use and, indeed, reopening it. She is also pointing out the fact that the timetables and schedules for trains in the north of England would have embarrassed Gladstone. Is it not time not simply to consider demand on the trains but to invest in new faster routes to support the economy of the north of England?
Ms Smith: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very important point. There is a great deal of sense in establishing high-speed networks on the east and west coast main lines, but to maximise the impact of that we need to make the trans-Pennine link. That is critical to the case that I am making.
Agglomeration benefits could also accrue if we went ahead with the scheme. Agglomeration benefits arise through firms becoming more productive as a result of being closer or more accessible to other firms, workers and markets. Labour markets and business catchments overlap in the north—we have eight city regions—and offer an opportunity to create a critical mass as a counterweight to the London and south-east economy, but only if there is the reality of a coherent transport system that enables businesses to flourish beyond their city boundaries.
The environmental benefits of a Crossrail for the north are significant.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): As my hon. Friend is aware, the west side of the tunnel is in my constituency. One of the groups that supports the re-opening of the route is Barnsley council, which fully supports it. Her economic argument is tremendously strong—the area between Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds requires the freight route. Does she agree that there is also potential for a grander scheme using the freight route, by which I mean linking the east and west Pennines to the Scottish economies and, through the midlands, to the channel tunnel? That would link the economic vitality of the area that she is talking about to the European market.
Ms Smith: My hon. Friend makes the key point again that the issue is not only the trans-Pennine link but the link between the north, via an east-west link, to the east and west Scottish economies, London, and the channel tunnel and Europe. That is a critical part of the case and I am glad that it has been emphasised. Of course, Barnsley, which is part of the Sheffield city region, would benefit substantially from such a scheme. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the benefits that would accrue to Barnsley—the town’s economic potential, as well as its football team, is often underestimated.
The environmental benefits of a Crossrail for the north would be significant. Rightly, there is cross-party consensus in the House on the Climate Change Bill. We need to set targets for the medium and long term to reduce carbon emissions, but in focusing our attention on that legislation, we must not lose sight of the practical measures necessary to deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions. Investment in high-speed rail links and rail-freight capacity is one of the key measures to success in our mission.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The hon. Lady is making a powerful case, which I support. Obviously, there is an environmental benefit from laying electrical cables under ground rather than on pylons. Is the hon. Lady aware—she is more familiar with the case than me—whether National Grid has given any consideration to enlarging the tunnel, thereby taking the cable through it without closing it for future rail use? Does she agree that such a possibility is worth exploring?
Ms Smith: National Grid’s considered view, which has been tested by a number of hon. Members, is that even if the cables go through one or two of the three tunnels, it will not be possible to run rail capacity through them. The key issue is whether National Grid is prepared to maintain the two Victorian tunnels so that we can return cabling to them in future. That is accepted as the way forward by all concerned, including the Department for Transport and National Grid. Most hon. Members recognise that the outage constraints of simply chopping off the supply to Manchester to recable the Victorian tunnels would be enormous. We have Ofgem to thank for that.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): The hon. Lady is making a strong case—it would appear that there is a trans-Pennine alliance of hon. Members from all parties in support of her comments. Further to what the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said, does she agree that the key thing to establish is that we are not opposed to the principle of National Grid using the tunnel if—it is perhaps a big “if”—there were some way for it to route cables through the tunnel that allowed train services to commence at some future date? I do not know how realistic the hon. Gentleman’s proposition is, but we ought to establish firmly the principle that if there is a way around the problem so that National Grid was able to run its cables and retain the potential for future use, we are not against it in principle. We should ensure that the route remains a viable proposition for the future.
Ms Smith: If that were a realistic option, it would be the most acceptable one for all sides. We are talking about 440,000 V cables, so it would be a major technological challenge. It would be wise for hon. Members to test the case further with National Grid. However, so far, National Grid has been absolutely firm that it cannot put the cables through the tunnel and run rail capacity through them at the same time.
On environmental benefits, our children and grandchildren will never forgive us for losing important opportunities to invest in a lower-carbon future. The Woodhead rail route is one means by which to secure such a future. Any projection of the case for a new trans-Pennine link must take into account the need for extra capacity economically and to proactively engage in the process of incentivising greater use of rail networks by passengers and freight alike. We are talking not only about the possible extra demand but about the modal shift from road to rail, which is important to that lower-carbon future. We can do it by developing the high-speed integrated network that we are discussing.
I must make a plea to the Minister to display foresight on the issue and apply the precautionary principle. National Grid’s use of the 1953 tunnel must not in any way be allowed for the economic and environmental reasons that I have outlined because it would close down the option of reopening the line in future. However, the omens are not good. Despite the Secretary of State for Transport’s intervention in the matter, a rail magazine at the weekend reported:
“Network Rail has dismissed the idea it will pay for the decaying original Woodhead tunnels to be mothballed pending their re-use as electricity cable-carriers.”
In the same article, National Grid says:
“If Network Rail or the Department for Transport wish to maintain the Victorian tunnels, we are willing to discuss this option with them”.
We cannot risk stalemate—we cannot risk losing the potential use of the Woodhead route for rail and compromising the national interest because National Grid and Network Rail cannot agree who should maintain the tunnels. Will the Minister commit the Government to sorting out the impasse for the sake of the long-term vision that I have outlined? Will she also commit to looking seriously at the case for a Crossrail for the north? A project that would draw on a wide range of support, including from all three northern regional development agencies, must be worth investigating.
The Minister is a good listener and likes to respond—I know that from the work that she has done on flooding in Sheffield. Will she today give us the hope that we can realise our ambition to compete effectively with the London and south-east economy, and that our transport infrastructure will be appropriately modernised in the medium to long term? Will she give us a Crossrail for the north?
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Ms Rosie Winterton): It is nice to be back in Westminster Hall under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow, after only a short interval. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) on securing the debate. She has demonstrated passionately how strongly she feels about the issue. Obviously, my hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Tom Levitt), for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), and for Halifax (Mrs. Riordan) have demonstrated that passion, as did the hon. Members for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) and for Cheadle (Mark Hunter). Not least because of my role as Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber, I know that maintaining adequate rail capacity on trans-Pennine routes now and in future is vital to the economy of northern England.
I should like to reassure hon. Members that National Grid’s plans will not jeopardise the possibility that the Woodhead tunnel route will reopen to rail traffic at some future date. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough outlined, National Grid owns the two Victorian tunnels and the more modern tunnel that was purchased from the British Rail Property Board in the early 1990s following the closure of the route in 1981. The company holds permitted development rights for placing cables in the newer tunnel. The cost to National Grid of replacing cables in the Victorian tunnels and of not using the more modern tunnels would be substantially higher than putting cables in the more modern tunnels and moving them back into the Victorian tunnels in future, as my hon. Friend mentioned. Replacing cables in the Victorian tunnels would require the transmission of electricity between the efficient power stations to the east of the Pennines and Manchester and the north-west to be suspended while the work was carried out. Less efficient power stations elsewhere would have to provide electricity, and that would be considerably more expensive—tens of millions of pounds according to National Grid.
Those outage charges would not be incurred if new cables were laid while the older ones were still transmitting; consequently, the charges would not be incurred if the process was reversed and new cables were put back into the Victorian tunnels while the cables in the more modern tunnels were still transmitting electricity. Reversing the process remains a possibility if growth in demand requires a fourth rail route across the Pennines.
My hon. Friend made a powerful speech, but I am sure that she realises 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. The Government’s strategy for the railways is set out in the White Paper, “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”, which identified the need for additional passenger capacity, and proposed that it should be met by longer trains to accompany reduced journey time on the Manchester-Leeds route via Huddersfield. On the south trans-Pennine route between Sheffield and Manchester, the East Midlands Trains franchise will deliver longer trains on the route between Liverpool and Nottingham via Sheffield.
Tom Levitt: My right hon. Friend has moved on from the tunnel itself, but I remind her that the question is whose responsibility it is to maintain the Victorian tunnels so that there is a tunnel to move back into.
Ms Winterton: I am coming to that point.
Neither the White Paper nor the Yorkshire and Humber regional planning assessment identified a long-term need for substantial increases in freight capacity across the Pennines. Consequently, it has not been suggested that the Woodhead route was needed for the purpose.
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. Again, that strategy did not identify a need for a new trans-Pennine route for freight. Network Rail’s Yorkshire and Humber route utilisation strategy is work in progress. Network Rail is also considering capacity needs on the three rail routes across the Pennines—the Hope valley line, the Manchester-Leeds route via Huddersfield, and the Calder valley line via Halifax.
I am aware of the Northern Way study, “The Market Demand for Gauge Enhancements”, but it does not refer specifically to the need for a new route across the Pennines or the reopening of the Woodhead route as the best way of achieving it. However, I am aware, as are other hon. Members, of previous expressions of interest from the private sector in using the Woodhead route. The Government set out their approach for developing a longer-term strategy in the document entitled “Towards a Sustainable Transport System”. At its heart is a process of engagement with stakeholders—that has already begun—on the goals and challenges for transport. Should robust evidence be produced that one of the key challenges is meeting significant growth for movements across the Pennines, the next stage will be to consider options across all transport modes that could meet the challenges identified.
As far as rail options are concerned, capacity enhancements on the three existing routes would be considered first. However, if an analysis of capacity on those routes concludes that the option of an additional route ought to be investigated, the Woodhead route for rail use can still be considered. The time to consider whether or not the Victorian tunnels need to be protected from long-term deterioration, so that they could be used again for rail or cable, is when the long-term capacity analysis has been completed but before National Grid finally seals the tunnels after the removal of the life-expired cables. That is expected to be in 2010 or 2011. At that time, a decision can be made on whether the Victorian tunnels should be sealed in a way that allows the process of inspection and maintenance to continue, should it prove necessary. Meanwhile, National Grid will continue to carry out regular inspections of the tunnels.
Following the meeting between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and many of the Members in Westminster Hall today—led by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough—and following the letter that the Secretary of State subsequently wrote to my hon. Friend, I propose to meet National Grid in the next few weeks to confirm that the Government wish to explore further the option of continuing the inspection and maintenance regime for the Victorian tunnels once National Grid has vacated them.
We will need to confirm the date by which a decision has to be made. As I said, that is expected to be in 2010 or 2011. By that point, much of the evidence gathered under the “Towards a Sustainable Transport System” process will be available, which will enable us to make the right decision. Following that meeting, I would like to meet key stakeholders. I want to discover the transport industry’s view and the northern economic perspectives on the challenges that face freight transport across the Pennines, and how that will tie in with the development of a longer-term strategy—in particular, the process of engagement with stakeholders on the goals and challenges for transport, which has already begun.
I want to build on that. I will encourage stakeholders to produce robust evidence on the expected growth in demand for passenger and freight movements across the Pennines. Should a significant challenge be identified, the next stage is to consider options for meeting those challenges through all transport modes. As far as the rail options are concerned, as I mentioned earlier, it will doubtless include capacity enhancements on the three existing routes as well as the reopening of the Woodhead route. The outcome of that work will provide us with the evidence needed to take a view on the long-term strategy for trans-Pennine transport links.
In conclusion, I reinforce the view that nothing should be done to jeopardise the economic future of the north of England, and I emphasise that National Grid’s proposals will not do so. During the period 2009–14, the Government plan to spend £15 billion on the rail network, supporting a network of services in the north of England and elsewhere, improving performance and reliability, increasing capacity by providing 1,300 new carriages, and making better use of the existing network. I hope that my response to the points raised during the debate reassures hon. Members that the steps that I propose will keep open the option of using the Woodhead route in the long term.
An article from today's Sheffield Star on the Adjournment Debate about Woodhead in the Houses of Parliament today, by Mark Hookham:
Minister will today come under renewed pressure to retain the threatened Woodhead Tunnel for future rail development.
Hillsborough MP Angela Smith will use a 30 minute debate in Westminster Hall - the second Commons debating chamber - to urge the Government to preserve the main tunnel for transport.
Ms Smith will say the tunnel should be used as part of a new high-speed Pennine rail route. She will argue such a route is urgently needed to tackle road congestion within the Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester "triangle".
And she will say better rail infrastructure is needed to connect the east coast ports with Yorkshire, the North West and South.
She will say most key routes are currently north-south but a new high speed east-west rail route is needed to boost trade at the port of Immingham, the deepest port in the UK. This would improve prosperity across the north of England, she will argue.
Speaking before the debate she said: "It's critically important we make the case at every opportunity for reducing congestion on our roads if we are to see the North compete in a very competitive world market. The building of a new high speed rail link will help this.
"A new link would also provide a much more environ-mentally friendly mode of communication for the north."
Ms Smith has spearheaded a parliamentary campaign against plans to run electricity cables through the main Woodhead tunnel, built in 1953 but disused since 1981.
Many campaigners also believe the Woodhead Tunnel would provide a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to the proposed A628 Mottram-Tintwistle bypass.
Monday, 10 March 2008
An article from Today's Oldham Evening Chronicle about tomorrow's Adjournment Debate about Woodhead, by Alan Salter:
The fate of the Woodhead Tunnel underneath the Peak District is to be debated in parliament.
Manchester MP Graham Stringer launched the campaign to protect the rail route between Manchester and Sheffield and Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly promised she would.
Oldham MEP Chris Davies joined the campaign and now Sheffield MP Angela Smith has secured an adjournment debate on “Woodhead rail route and options for its future” for tomorrow.
The move has delighted protesters who have been asked to contribute to the consultation on a key government White Paper, “Transport Challenges” to develop a sustainable transport system.
The invitation was made by Bolton MP Ms Kelly herself after speaking with members of the “Save the Woodhead Tunnel” group who were demonstrating at the opening of the refurbished Salford Central station. After the transport secretary had left, the campaigners were given goody bags which had been handed out to passengers and VIPs to mark the occasion.
Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority, which funded most of the £5 million work at Salford, is supporting the campaign against National Grid’s use of the tunnel as a cable run for trans-Pennine power cables which would make it difficult and expensive to reopen the rail route.
Jonathan Atkinson, one of the campaign’s co-ordinators, told Ms Kelly that there should be “a full, open and democratic investigation into what is happening”
The transport secretary delighted the group by promising: “If there is a case for reopening the line, we’ll make sure that the Woodhead tunnel can still be used.”
Formal consultation on the White Paper will take place between May and July before publication of the final “Transport Challenges” document in January, 2009.
An early day motion put down by Mr Stringer calling on the Government to intervene and “prevent this strategic rail route being lost for ever” has been signed by 73 MPs.
Saturday, 8 March 2008
We have now set up a bank account in order to receive donations and finance the campaign.
If you wish to set up a standing order, the details are as follows:
Building Society: Britannia
Account name: Save the Woodhead Tunnel
Britannia Bank Account No: 00000000 (this goes in 'BACS field No. 2')
Savings Account No/Reference No: 340686683 (this goes on 'BACS field No. 10')
Sort Code: 57-13-27
In addition, we have a standing order mandate PDF available for download here.
If you would rather pay by cheque, please send a cheque made payable to 'Save the Woodhead Tunnel' to:
Save The Woodhead Tunnel
PO Box 367
Saturday, 1 March 2008
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."