Campaigners fighting to secure Woodhead new tunnel under the Pennines for future railway use have been asked to contribute to the consultation process.

The invitation to contribute to a key government White Paper, Transport Challenges', aiming to develop a sustainable transport system.

was made by Secretary of State Ruth Kelly following the re-opening of Salford Central station.

Ms Kelly spoke with members of the Save the Woodhead Tunnel' group who were demonstrating at the ceremony against the National Grid's use of the tunnel as a cable run for trans-Pennine power cables.

NG's project will make it difficult and expensive to reopen the former Woodhead railway route - something which environmental, transport and business groups see as increasingly necessary.

Freight traffic between east and west coast ports is expected to rise significantly over the next 20 years.

Without a new line across the Pennines, that traffic will have to be carried on congested roads as the existing rail network is already operating close to capacity.

Jonathan Atkinson, one of the campaign's coordinators, told Ms Kelly that there should be "a full, open and democratic investigation into what is happening. At the moment, the National Grid is just taking a decision in the interests of shareholders."

Ruth Kelly told campaigners: "I want to take the decision that's best on this" and recognised the views being expressed by a broad coalition of stakeholders that "Woodhead tunnel could be valuable in the future".

She added: "We've got to get the position right. If there is a case for reopening the line, we'll make sure that the Woodhead tunnel can still be used."

Formal consultation on the White Paper will take place between May and July before publication of the final Transport Challenges' document in January 2009.