BUSINESS leaders are pushing for a road and rail tunnel under the Pennines as a “radical solution” to the longstanding problems travelling from Bolton to South Yorkshire.

A delegation including leaders of local authorities in Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley, as well as Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s transport policy manager, Emma Antrobus, have met Minister of Transport Stephen Hammond in London to discuss the proposal.

Mr Hammond was told the Woodhead Pass had been closed 27 times in three years due mainly to road accidents.

Ms Antrobus said the Government has recently issued an intention to carry out a feasibility study on transpennine transport, but it appeared to be focusing on tweaking the roads and rail services that already exist.

She said: “While meeting the needs of the Peak District National Park, some members of our group are chasing a pipe dream — of a tunnel under the hills that would accommodate both road and rail.

“This would be a very high cost option but it was felt that alternative funding options should be explored to deliver a definitive solution, including tunnel tolling and overseas investment.” Ms Antrobus added the impact of HS2 was also discussed, focusing on the ability to move people north to south needing to be supplemented by improved east to west movements.

She added: “I explained that Greater Manchester Chamber had developed a construction pipeline report outlining the investment and skills requirements over the next three years, and how important it was that we had decent transport to support supply chains and allow access to the expanded labour opportunities.

"I also mentioned that we have member companies very keen to bring Chinese investment into infrastructure projects in the North.

“It’s clear we need a solution and that tinkering at the edges of the problem was not really a sustainable solution. Maybe it’s time to look at radical options and assess their feasibility.”

Woodhead facts

  • A series of three Woodhead railway lines already exists but the lines are not in use.
  • They are three parallel three-mile long tunnels on the Woodhead Line — a former major rail link from Manchester to Sheffield.
  • Woodhead One was one of the world’s longest railway tunnels when it was opened in 1845.
  • Woodhead Two was completed in 1853 and Woodhead Three in 1953.
  • Passenger services in ended in 1970 and the last train passed through in 1981.
  • The tunnels are currently owned by National Grid, which initially used Woodhead One and Two to install new cables and in 2008 started to install new cables in Woodhead Three.
  • This sparked controversy because it would make it much more difficult to restart rail services on the line.