“The A628 Woodhead Pass is closed…” How often have we heard than on the radio or seen it on the web? High winds, snow, accidents and lorries shedding their loads all contributed to the road being closed over twenty times in 2013.
No joke for anyone who uses the route to commute over the Pennines or who needs to catch a flight from Manchester Airport. Some eight years ago we were being told that a bypass should be built at Mottram and that would speed up the traffic on the A628. Of course it would not have shortened overall journey times as all that would have happened would have been to move the traffic jams eastwards to the Flouch, Bridge End and the Westwood roundabout. Fortunately that ill-conceived scheme was abandoned but the problem is still with us.
How do we improve the cross-Pennine links? Anyone who has driven over the Woodhead Pass will appreciate that the topography makes it difficult to upgrade the road to a dual-carriageway let alone a motorway. Probably a non-starter as it would go through the Peak Park and in any case the roads from the Flouch to the M1 could not cope with motorway traffic volumes nor should local residents be subjected to even more HGVs.
So what else could be done? There is no shortage of proposals. The one most often raised is that of re-opening the Woodhead rail line but even if the money could be found actually making it work would be quite a challenge. It would only succeed if hauliers and motorists could be persuaded to load their vehicles onto trains, then unload them at the other end and pay for what would inevitably be a longer journey time.
Another more fanciful scheme was mooted in late 2012 and that involved digging a road and rail tunnel from J36 of the M1 to the M67. Firstly, there is no rail link anywhere near J36 and are we expected to have cars and HGVs running alongside trains in the same tunnel? If so that would expose the road vehicles to the piston-effect of high speed trains. A road tunnel perhaps? Something like Mont Blanc but three times the length? That took eight years to build and is not even big enough for modern HGVs. The idea of a road tunnel under the Channel was rejected on safety grounds so presumably the same would apply to one of the same length under the Pennines.
Are there any practical ideas? No canals, airships or castles in the air please! Restrictions on high-sided vehicles might help but would be unpopular with hauliers and would add costs to business although sometimes people with risky loads might choose a different route on their own. Maybe I could offer a really radical suggestion – driving more carefully!
First published by the Barnsley Chronicle – Penistone Living May 2014