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Report - - Woodhead Railway Tunnel Longdendale,Peak District | Underground Sites |

Report - Woodhead Railway Tunnel Longdendale,Peak District

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Has anyone got any further than the 2inch of my camera lens into the woodhead tunnel.Its 3miles long and opened in 1954 and closed in 1981,i think one of its main uses was to transport coal from yorkshire/notts to manchesters sure someone on the sight could add a bit of history to this thread and maybe some better pics.....





This last ones not one of mine.....


The tunnel in the first photo looks like the 'new' Woodhead tunnel, it replaced two separate bores nearby (Your bottom picture) which I think are covered by the trees to the left in your first photo.

I think the advertising at the time called it Britain's first all electric main line when it opened. It was 1500V DC so was different to the rest of the man line system which was energised at 25Kv AC, and so part of the reason given for closing it at the time was the cost of modernisation.

Looks like your first picture was also taken from what's left of Woodhead station though it's only a guess as the concrete structures look like old platforms

The old bores were taken over by the CEGB to carry power cables across the peaks and so as far as I am aware are still in existence too.

Hope that is of interest?


It was originally to haul coal from Barnsley to Manchester.

After electrification, they had a remarkable concept that the loaded coal trains going downhill into Manchester used their motors for braking, and fed power BACK into the overhead wires, which was used to pull empty trains back uphill and thus saved electricity.

The overhead wiires were 1500V DC. Aftre closure the locos were sold to the Dutch railways, and only went out of use fairly recently. There is one in the Manchester Science Museum.

Chris S

I visited the tunnels in 1986 and 1988. In 1986, you could walk through, the track ended just inside the tunnel (a single track was kept "just in case" the line reopened). It was a crying shame the line was closed, especially as the "new" tunnel had only opened in 1954....however, a lot of the line's staple freight was disappearing during that time (coal from the Yorkshire pits).
It used to carry an hourly Manchester to Sheffield express until 1970, but one of the reasons it foundered was that it was electrified at 1500vDC, and 25kvAC was adopted as standard for any future overhead, leaving the MSW (Manchester, Sheffield, Wath) system isolated.
The older tunnels carry the National Grid powerlines through the hill as mentioned earlier, to save spoiling the Pennines with pylons. On a cold day, you can see steam rising from the old ventilation tunnels on the moors above (the power lines are immersed in continuously flowing oil, as they get to immense tempearture in that small space)
The closure of the new tunnel was surrounded in controversy, as it was thought at one time that it would be used to upgrade the A628 above.....nothing has happened as yet....

ps-how do I attach pictures please??


I’ve found some notes in an old book on Woodhead Tunnel, they may be of interest, so I’ll summarise. Apologies for only having good old imperial measurements. If you don't know what a bushell or a pole is, tough.

The north bore was used, because it was continuously stone lined, the south bore was not. However, there was a problem of soot – up to almost a foot thick. Water could not be used to clear it because of pollution (reservoirs nearby), so it was blasted off by air jets.

The soot on the floor was mixed with lime, cement and old ballast, and set to make a decent hard floor – very clever.

The old stone lining didn’t have any weep holes, and ground water pressure was causing it to bulge (a common problem in lined tunnels), so grout was forced in, to strengthen and fill voids.

Almost half of the lining was repointed – 33000 sq yards. There were 6 ventilation shafts, 1,3&4 were filled with stone, 5 was partially filled, the biggest one, no. 2 was repointed so that it may be used in the future for ventilation if more cables were installed.

The south bore is used for emergency access, and is connected by cross passages and steel doors.

I understand that the old signal box in the middle is still there – it was not used for too long because of the crappy conditions. It was certainly there in the 60's 'cos a colleague at work has seen it.

The cables heat up, so they are insulated with oil impregnated paper, in an oil filled pressured tube. This pressurisation had to be kept constant, even when being transported.

The cables are in a water filled trough, the water is pumped at a rate of 132 gallons a minute from Woodhead, to Dunford and back again. Heat exchangers at the Woodhead end dissipate the heat. The temperature rise is around 15 degrees centigrade at Dunford, and 35 degrees by the time it is back at Woodhead.

The cables were made by Pirelli (did they get a calendar?) There are 2 circuits, 3 cables (phases) each. There is a narrow gauge railway which presumably is used for maintenance, there is also cooling air fed through, especially to cool the 125 cable joints. It was activated in 1969 and cost £2.75 million.