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Fight breaks out over rail tunnel

A disused South Yorkshire rail tunnel in was this week at the centre of a major row between National Grid and a group of rail campaigners including Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher.
National Grid is poised to install a new set of cables through the 4.5km double track Woodhead rail tunnel that was built in the 1950s but has not been used since 1981.

Rail campaigners claim the tunnel needs safeguarding so that the disused rail line between Sheffield and Deepcar could be re-opened to run freight services.

The cables are being relocated from two disused single bore Victorian rail tunnels nearby and the Save the Woodhead Tunnel campaign claims that National Grid could refurbish these tunnels and lay the replacement cables.

National Grid claims that refurbishing the Victorian tunnels would cost a prohibitive £165M. But campaigners have rubbished the figure as wildly exaggerated.

The campaign includes local councils, three regional development agencies and sustainable transport group Campaign for Better Transport.

It has urged transport secretary Ruth Kelly to block the works on the Woodhead tunnel and safeguard it for future rail freight use.

Campaigners have won support from Network Rail chairman Iain Coucher and 59 MPs who have signed an Early Day Motion calling for the government to block the cable relocation work.

The motion states: "National Grid's proposal to embark upon a cabling project through the Woodhead Tunnel would mean an irrevocable loss of rail capacity; (the motion) calls upon the Government to investigate and intervene on this issue as a matter of urgency to prevent this strategic rail route being lost forever."

A National Grid spokesman said: "There are no current plans to reinstate a railway line and if there were there is no reason why they couldn’t make the two adjacent single bore Victorian tunnels available for that."

Kelly last week indicated that the government would not intervene.

The campaigners have claimed that the Victorian tunnels are too small to run modern train services. "The single bore tunnels are unsuitable for European gauge freight trains and high speed passenger services," said a spokesman.

Campaigners have also made a freedom of information request to establish when exactly National Grid acquired the tunnel and at what cost.

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