Keep the coal runnin'...


Teignmouth, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

And that’s what they did, right up until the very last day…

A few days ago my dad and I decided to have a rumble down the route of the former Woodhead Line aboard a Class 323 from Manchester Piccadilly to the current terminus of the line at Hadfield, and couldn’t help but feel rather deflated at seeing all of the infrustructure, such as Dinting Viaduct, the remains of Dewsnap Sidings and the overgrown area of empty land that was Mottram Marshaling Yard, as well as all the overhead gantries that echoed back to the better days. So I decided I’d make another little tribute to this amazing and unique railway by redrawing the following picture in my own style

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Here we see a pair of Class 76 EM1 locomotives about to enter Woodhead Tunnel with an eastbound coal train in the final days of the route, as seen from the long redundant platforms of Woodhead Station.

The Woodhead Route was opened in 1845 by the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway, and stretched from Sheffield Victoria station, up to Penistone, through the hills in Woodhead Tunnel, and then down the valley via Guide Bridge to Manchester London Road (now Piccadilly), a distance of 41 miles. Operations later reverted to the Great Central Railway, and then the London and North Eastern Railway, before finally in 1948, as part of Nationalization and the formation of British Railways, it was designated as part of the Eastern Region, an odd move considering that this was deep Midland Region country.

In 1953 the route was electrified, a plan that had been considered by the GCR and later the LNER but was delayed due to World War II. Electrification of the route included the construction of a third Woodhead Tunnel, the previous two bores being unfit for handling heavy traffic and would need extensive modification to handle overhead wires. In 1955, electric services began fully using LNER designed EM1 and EM2 locomotives, these later being designated Class 76 and Class 77 respectively. The EM1’s were used primarily for the haulage of heavy freight, whilst EM2’s were specially designated for passenger usage. However, due to the fact that the line failed to serve any large settlements beyond Hadfield, the passenger service was withdrawn in 1971 and the EM2’s were sold off to the Dutch Railways, where they continued to operate well into the 1980’s.

Eventually, as coal traffic began to dwindle, the demand for trains travelling over the Pennines to be moved to the Hope Valley Line to the south and the outdated and non-standard equipment being used, the Woodhead Route was slated for closure, with the last trains running on the 17th July 1981. Throughout the 1980’s the tracks were lifted and now there is very little to say the route ever existed beyond the abrupt buffer stops at Hadfield station, with nothing but an eerie trail leading off into the distance beyond, a hollow reminder of the roaring coal trains that used to pile through the now quiet station.

As for Woodhead Tunnel, the original Victorian bores are used to carry electric cabling for the National Grid, saving the need to construct Pylons over the top of the hills. The third bore has now been sealed off by gates and has been considered for use by the National Grid as a replacement for the dilapidated Victorian bores. However, stiff competition has resisted the use of the third bore as it would remove any chance of the tunnel being reused for railway operations, meaning that there is still a drive to have trains running through the Woodhead once again.

Only time will tell…

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