Pennine Waterways News

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Self-Steer at Standedge Tunnel

British Waterways will change the way that boats pass through Standedge Tunnel from 2009!

Boaters have been told than a new system of "Chaperoned Operation" will be used for diesel powered boats.

The present system, which started when the tunnel re-opened in 2001, 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. The operation is very labour intensive and costly to run and the limited passage times is a disincentive for boaters to use the canal.

Tests carried out during 2007 showed that it was feasible for diesel engines to be operated routinely within the canal tunnel, with gas emmision levels well within HSE limits for safe working. During 2007 and 2008 BW carried out a series of trials involving first hire boats of Shire Cruisers and later privately owned boats with the approval of the owners. By working with a variety of boats of different types BW has been able to assess potential operational problems.

As a result of the tests and the positive feedback that the new system was more flexible and effective, a system of "Chaperoned Operation" will be introduced from 16th March 2009, with competent BW staff accompanying boat owners as they take their boat through the tunnel. The BW staff wll be there to advise and may steer if required.

BW has indicated that the operation of this systen is likely to include:
• All boats to undergo a safety assessment before transit.
• Critical points of the boats to be fendered.
• Boat owner or steerer and BW chaperone to be equipped with authorized Personal Protection Equipment (e.g. hard hats, etc), additional lighting and two radios. Other crew members to remain inside the boat cabin.
• A returnable deposit of £50 along with a small at-cost charge will be taken either in cash or by credit card, to ensure that guidelines are abided by and equipment returned in good order. This deposit will be asked for at the point of booking to ensure boats turn up.
• Competent BW staff to accompany boat owners through tunnel on their craft. BW staff to act as 'chaperones' and advise boaters on navigating the tunnel. BW staff may be prepared to steer through difficult points, under the consent of the boat owner.

It should be possible for certain boats, such as petrol powered vessels, to be towed through the tunnel as at present.

Another new development will benefit local people and visitors who are not boaters. Up until now, anyone can book to join one of the convoys by buying a "hiker's ticket" but the days and times have had to fit in with the boat convoys. In 2009 BW will trial special passenger trips right through the tunnel. These are to be on the first Saturday of the month for a six month trial period. This initiative will give the non-boating community the opportunity to see the entire tunnel.

In preparation for the self-steer operation for boaters, BW will be working on the tunnel during the winter stoppage period, improving some of the tunnel's "pinch points" where boats can sustain damage. Improvements in communications within the tunnel will also be made.

It is understood that tunnel passages will be available on more than the current two days a week. Further information will be published as it becomes available.

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