Pennine Waterways News

Monday, 3 March 2008

New Proposals for Standedge Tunnel Passage

British Waterways is proposing major changes to the way that boats pass through Standedge Tunnel!

The present system (which will continue in operation during 2008) is a complex operation, requiring an electric tug and passenger module pulling customers' boats through in a convoy on just two days a week. A safety vehicle in the adjacent disused railway tunnel shadows the convoy. BW staff are positioned on each boat, fending it off the tunnel sides. The operation is very labour intensive and costly to run.

Tests carried out during 2007 have shown that it is feasible for diesel engines to be operated routinely within the canal tunnel, enabling British Waterways to rethink how boats can be taken through the tunnel.

BW's proposal is that from 2009 customers' boats would pass through the tunnel under their own power, piloted by a trained qualified British Waterways staff member.

Boaters would be able to remain on their boats and pets will also be allowed to remain on board.

To make this feasible, BW proposed some modifcations to the tunnel, including removing some hazardous rock projections and highlighting or fendering others, improving safety signage, adding distance indicators and installing more flexible communications systems within the tunnel.

The proposals, if approved, will result in a faster passage time of around 1.5 hours and improved welfare arrangements for British Waterways staff.

BW will continue talking with partners Network Rail and the Emergency Services regarding the safety issues as the proposals have implications for their operations.

The guided visitor trips from Tunnel End on the glass roofed boat using electric tugs will continue but BW will be keeping the operation under constant review because of concerns about the future reliability of the electric tugs.

BW's Laurence Morgan said:
"We carried out a number of trials this year with a diesel tug operation to establish definitive information about potential problems with noxious fumes, test welfare and emergency responses as well as our control of the tunnel operations.

"The tests showed that gas emissions inside the tunnel were not a cause for concern and it may be possible to reduce the time taken to go through the tunnel down to one and a half hours.

"Moving on from this we are now considering a piloted operation of customers' own boats by British Waterways trained qualified staff. This will be far better than the very complex operation we have at present.

"For 2008 we will be keeping the operation as is but a project team will be running some further low level trials to ensure that the business case is robust.

"Although it is early days yet, we are very enthusiastic about the proposed changes as we feel this will offer our customers a vastly improved level of service and enable them to enjoy the trip through the highest, longest and deepest tunnel in the country far more than is possible at present."

The proposed changes should result in a more flexible operation for boaters, which could include passages on more than the present two days a week.

The piloting of boats by BW staff should reduce concerns that Network Rail may have than adventurous boaters might stop off and investigate the adits through into the active rail tunnel. It would also mean that in the event of an emergency, the qualified BW operative on board would be in radio contact with the tunnel office to ensure that emergency procedures are followed.

The 2008 season at Standedge starts from Saturday 15th March with the first through trips scheduled for Wednesday 19th and Friday 21st March. Boaters wanting to book passage should contact BW on 0113 281 6860.

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