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Sheffield tunnel campaigners get hope

Transport minister Ruth Kelly gave hope this week to campaigners who are demanding that a disused rail tunnel near Sheffield is safeguarded for a future rail freight route.

The tunnel's owner, National Grid, plans to re-route cables from two single-bore Victorian tunnels nearby into the Woodhead tunnel and seal up the other two tunnels (NCE 31 January).

Campaigners argue that running the cables through the Woodhead tunnel would end hopes of it being re-opened as part of a future trans-Pennine rail freight route.

Local labour MP Angela Smith and 73 other MPs have signed an Early Day Motion against the plans and Kelly was expected to offer hope to the campaigners at a House of Commons debate on the future of Woodhead Tunnel as NCE went to press.

Kelly has previously insisted she would not intervene in the tunnel row, leaving National Grid free to press on with the plans.

However, in a letter to Smith last week Kelly said the Department for Transport (DfT) now plans to convene a meeting with National Grid and Network Rail to discuss how new cables can be installed and a future rail freight route safeguarded. To that effect, the DfT is understood to have asked National Grid to keep the other two tunnels open for maintenance rather than seal them up as planned.

Kelly also told a meeting of Woodhead tunnel campaigners last month: "I want to take a decision that's best on this. Woodhead tunnel could be valuable in the future. If there is a case, we'll make sure that the Woodhead tunnel can still be used."

The 4.5km double-track Woodhead tunnel was completed in 1953 but has not been used since 1981. Campaigners claim that cables could continue to run through the Victorian tunnels nearby, but National Grid claims that to continue running them through these tunnels would necessitate refurbishment at a cost of £165M.

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