Friday, 1 July 2011

Event - New tunnel vision (Woodhead Route)

VOLUNTEERS working on plans to reopen the old rail line in the north of Sheffield for commuters are preparing to mark the 30th anniversary of the last train running through the Woodhead Tunnel.

Members of Don Valley Railway will walk a section of the line – inviting members of the public to join them – on Saturday, July 16 as they seek to give their ambitions fresh impetus.

A new steering group has been created and a new website and even a beer called Tunnel Vision are being launched to mark the 30-year milestone and hopes that passenger trains will eventually return between Sheffield and Stocksbridge.

The last train ran through the Woodhead Tunnel along the Manchester-Sheffield Trans-Pennine line on July 16, 1981, although there hadn’t been a regular passenger service since 1970.

Since then there has been political and community pressure for the route’s reinstatement in the north of Sheffield, pointing to economic, social and environmental benefits.

Don Valley Railway, a not-for-profit company and a community charity, has been working for years on proposals for what it believes can be a viable commuter service between Sheffield and Stocksbridge using the existing freight route in the Upper Don Valley to the Tata steelworks in Stocksbridge.

An engineering feasibility study on behalf of the charity recommended that the most cost-effective option is a simple shuttle between a station close to the site of the former Victoria Station off the Wicker and Deepcar. It envisaged a single diesel train offering two services every hour with no intermediate stops.

Enhancements could be made as funds allow to extend the route into the centre of Stocksbridge, provide extra stations at Oughtibridge and Wadsley Bridge, andextensions towards Penistone.

Initial costs were estimated at £4.3m and that remains a significant hurdle. However, the volunteers have been given support by Sheffield City Council, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, Stocksbridge Town Council, Network Rail and steelmakers Corus and Tata.

As a business plan is formulated, Don Valley Railway, which has a membership of around 70, is seizing the chance to raise awareness of its ambitions at the same as marking a piece of local history.

Company secretary Chris Bell said a petition to support the plans has raised 2,000 names, saying: “There is quite a bit of support in the Upper Don Valley.”

The walk along the railway starts at Deepcar Station at 11am, calling at Penistone (12.30pm) and Hazelhead (1.30pm) before going on the route of the line to Dunford Bridge and then on to the moors to rendezvous at 3pm with the Re-Open the Woodhead Line Group, which wants to see the whole line open.

The beer – a mid brown 4% strength session beer – is being brewed by Pete Roberts, landlord of the Harlequin pub in Nursery Street. It should be available in real ale pubs.

Don Valley Railway treasurer Paul Denton said: “At the time of its closure Woodhead was the most modern rail tunnel in Britain. Calling the beer Tunnel Vision sums up what a lot of people think. The potential of reopening this railway for passengers from Sheffield to Stocksbridge or Manchester should be taken seriously.”

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