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Nostalgia: Steaming into the Woodhead Tunnel

On track for the Woodhead Tunnel.

Only the most optimistic railway enthusiast would think there is even the slightest hope of opening the Woodhead Tunnel to passenger and freight traffic again.

But when the first single track tunnel was carved under the Pennines in the 1830s, the second in the 1850s and the modern third a  century later, they were seen as a sign of the future.

A story in the Chronicle in August 1946 revealed that both tunnels would be closed alternately for six months for urgent repairs.

But it wasn’t long before they were being shut for good as plans were being announced for a third tunnel which was opened in the 1950s.

The story also came up with some fascinating facts about those 19th century tunnels.

It seems the cost was £200,000 and that eight million tons of water was ‘raised’ and more than 157 tons of gunpowder was used to blast through the millstone grit, shale, sandstone and slate, to create the three mile tunnels.

The Chronicle reported: “The ground was first broken on October 1, 1838, on what was to be the biggest tunnel in the country. The average depth was 600ft below the summit of the hills pierced.”

The Chronicle also reported that the men who maintained the rail tracks when the tunnels opened had the ‘darkest and dirtiest jobs in the country.’

It added: “They spend every working day of their lives in blackness.

“Holiday trains may roar past and goods trains go slowly by in the darkness, but their work goes on every day of the week."

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