Past and Present: Tunnel vision

Ian Lamb talks about the Pennines’ Woodhead Tunnel and an unexpected trip through it 40 years ago.

As a child I subscribed to the Eagle children’s newspaper, not just to keep up to date with the adventures of Dan Dare and Digby as they conquered the universe, but – having engineering ambitions – I looked forward excitedly to the middle-page spread that always featured an exploded drawing of some sort or other, predominantly of a transport nature.

Any that referred to railways I kept in a scrapbook, and I am delighted that after more than 60 years they are still in good order.

In particular I was fascinated with the Woodhead Tunnel artwork, not only referring to the first fully electric trains that would run through it, but describing the geology and construction of the whole project.

I had always hoped that one day I might travel through it, but assumed the opportunity had gone forever when scheduled passenger services ended in 1970 (though freight continued for a further decade).

Photograph from 1953 showing the western portals of the Woodhead tunnels. To the left, a train emerges from one of the original tunnels, while tunnel three is under construction to the right. Ben Brooksbank


However – and I remember the journey as though it were yesterday – I was required to travel from Manchester to Luton in 1978, and it being a Sunday, trains were being diverted. I couldn’t believe it when I found myself passing through Guide Bridge, then Dinting and Hadfield.

As the five reservoirs came into view – and more in hope than trepidation – this train rushed on and was lost in the black bore of Woodhead Tunnel.

Eventually emerging at Dunford Bridge was rather anti-climactic, but a journey that I will always remember.

For the full article, see the March edition of Modelling – available now!

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