Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ken Turton Replies To Ken Curran

The site of the former Sheffield Victoria Station in 1988.

The two Ken's are regulars at our discussion meetings. Below we present Ken Turton's response to
this earlier item by Ken Curran.

Ken Curran's article contains some bright ideas as far as our railways are concerned, but he does not need to pursue the dream of building a massively expensive tunnel under the Pennines. There is a ready-made alternative, which just needs to be reactivated.

Ken is right in saying that continental rolling stock cannot negotiate the present Cross Pennine Railway Lines due to its infrastructure, in general, not being compatible with that of the Continent or America. These overseas' railways can and do move container-type traffic which is the traffic of the future. British Rail suffers from being the first railway in the world to be built. Later railways were able to make improvements, including alterations to their infrastructure.

However, there is hope for the region which Ken draws our attention to. This needs to be based on the now defunct rail link called the "Great Central Railway", known colloquially as the "GCR". This line began life in 1907 and traversed Liverpool Central, Manchester Central, Penistone, Sheffield Victoria, Nottingham, Leicester Central, Rugby, High Wycombe, Marylebone, then Banbury, Reading West and Dover. It divided at Sheffield to Retford, Lincoln, Skegness, Immingham via Gainsboro and Cleethorpes, taking in Grimsby. The main route took in all the North Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire coalfields which travelled north-by-west to Liverpool and Manchester.

The GCR was despised by other railway companies of its time, because it was built with some thought when it adopted the Continental infrastructure and indeed it came to carry continental rolling stock after World War 2. In 1936 it was innovative in planning and in putting into operation modern signalling systems in the Sheffield area intended for a more efficient electrification. Indeed it ran trains by electric traction from Sheffield to Manchester , taking in one in 147 gradients with ease until 1986. That line had two double-line tunnels, built to run continental rolling stock, and for many years did so.

One tunnel, a small one, was at Thurgoland. The second at Woodhead-Dufford was 3 miles and 177 yards long, being concrete lined and lit by electricity throughout. It was laid just after World War 2 and is still in existence today, as is much of the line from Sheffield. But it is used
by walkers and cyclists today. So with some small restoration, the line can be used again. For the bridges and tunnels can easily be cleared for fast running trains.

I have made a recent unsuccessful attempt with South Yorkshire Transport Services (SYTS) to have these restorations undertaken. The fact is that the tunnels of the former GCR line do not need excavating, they are already in situ. The SYTS seemed to me to be unaware of the situation before I brought it to their attention. These bureaucracies seem to me to be rigid in their thinking and nothing can move them. Facts are not important to such thick skinned people. Unfortunately instead, they are relentless in pursuing the unpursuable.

Anyway Ken, the GCR was a railway line that paid its way. This is illustrated by the fact that the Chairman of the GCR was Sir Edgar Watkins who also chaired the first Channel Tunnel Railway Company. The GCR was straight, fast and futuristic and it does not need need much work on it, apart from its re-opening. It would provide a route which would open up Sheffield and its greater area to the North West of Britain, along with the east coast ports and and on to your transcontinental ambitions. Although it has to be said that the Orient Express of yesterday travelled from London to India and China. A route that would also be advantageous to British Industry, if we had one worth its salt.

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