To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of using the Woodhead rail tunnel for high voltage power cables; and whether it will affect future use of the tunnel for modern rail transport.
6 February 2015
The Government announced on 5 November 2013 that it would not be purchasing the Victorian rail tunnels at Woodhead on the former Manchester to Sheffield line from National Grid in order to instigate an inspection and maintenance regime on those tunnels. This decision, taken following consultation with 40 local MPs, statutory bodies, and Network Rail reflected the following key considerations:
a) The Government has committed funding to the Northern Hub programme. This includes schemes to increase capacity and line speeds on the Hope Valley route between Manchester and Sheffield.
b) A study carried out by Network Rail indicates that demand for travel between Manchester and Sheffield could more than double in thirty years. With the planned investment, the Hope Valley line and its trains could accommodate this growth. If freight grows, schemes have also been identified which could enable more freight trains to run.
c) The Victorian tunnels were not in a good condition and would have required on-going funding to keep them in a condition necessary for possible re-use. These costs would have fallen on the taxpayer or meant less money for other vital rail investment in the north.
d) If an additional rail route is required between Manchester and Sheffield, it is unlikely that even the modern tunnel at Woodhead would be suitable for re-use and, given advances in tunnelling technology as witnessed by Crossrail, the best solution is most likely to be the construction of a new tunnel.
Further background to this decision can be found in my statement: Official Report, 5 November 2013, Column WS12.