Victorian-era railway tunnels connecting Manchester and Sheffield are to be closed for good despite the efforts of campaigners hoping to return passenger traffic to the line.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Stephen Hammond, has said that the Woodhead tunnels were not suitable and that the expensive maintenance work required would take away funding from other rail projects.

Following the completion of a new electrified Woodhead Tunnel in 1953, the Victorian tunnels were closed to passenger and freight traffic.

In the 1960s, National Grid bought the Victorian tunnels to allow it to run high-voltage cables between substations at Thorpe Marsh and Stalybridge.

Original Woodhead tunnel in 1903. Photo: National-Railway-Museum and SSPL/ CC-BY-NC-SA.
Photo of original Woodhead tunnels from 1903. Photo: National Railway Museum and SSPL/ CC-BY-NC-SA.

In 1981, the third tunnel also closed and was subsequently acquired by National Grid which planned to use it to run replacement cables through when the original cables were due to be renewed after 30 years of use.

National Grid began this switchover in 2007 and with the project nearing completion, plans to seal up the disused Victorian tunnels are now underway.

In a written statement to Parliament, Stephen Hammond confirmed that the government will not be buying back the tunnels, but even though the tunnels were being sealed, he did not believe the decision ruled out the possibility of reopening the line in the future.

Hammond said: “The Victorian tunnels are not in a good condition and would require on-going funding to keep them in a condition necessary for possible re-use. These costs would fall on the taxpayer or mean less money for other vital rail investment in the north.

“If an additional rail route was ever required between Manchester and Sheffield, it is unlikely that even the modern tunnels would be suitable for re-use and, given advances in tunnelling technology even since 2008 as witnessed by Crossrail, the best solution is most likely to be the construction of a new tunnel.”

Read more about the history of the Woodhead tunnels at Forgotten Relics


  1. A great shame no-one appreciates the historical importance of these tunnels. The first one was the longest tunnel in the world when it opened and was seen at the time as truly miraculous. It took seven years to construct. But there’s no room to value such things in a Society besotted with trivia and fluff.

  2. This amply demonstrates the incompetence of DfT minions and the ignorance of the politicians who allow such stupid considerations to go ahead. Some idiot did a few sums, said OK let’s sell this wasted asset to National Grid, and sod the future. The old tumnnels should be relined, and the cables transferred back one at a time to the original GC bores to release the BR built tunnel to be used as it should be, as a RAILWAY! I think this one is worth a FoI question, not only this decision but also how the incompetent Ruth Kelly allowed it in the first place. Another ill-informed Minister!