21 December 2007

Standedge Tunnel transit

Keith Noble writes about possible solutions to the problems of Standedge Tunnel.
Thorough and regular readers of Pennine Link will have noted that the Society has been campaigning for a relaxation in the regime in force for boats requiring passage through Standedge Tunnel.

The artificial constraints put on traversing the Narrow Canal, limit the number of boats using it both directly and indirectly. If too few boats are seen using the canal, restoration will be perceived to have failed. If so that would be bitterly disappointing to those who strove for a quarter of a century to bring the canal back to life. It would also be to the detriment of future restorations if the Narrow were to be cited as an adverse precedent. 

Quite apart from the embuggerance of arranging a passage through Standedge, this year, BW, reacting to Government imposed budget cuts, have limited passages to two days a week. No more that four boats at a time have been allowed in each direction. That means a maximum of 16 boats passing over the summit each week. Previously eight boats at a time have been taken through but it is assumed that this year's reduction arose because the batteries in the tugs were proving unreliable. New batteries have now been installed so hopefully more boats will be accommodated in 2008 even if the established regime persists. 

Even before the budget cuts your Council was concerned about the applied constraints and the announcement of cuts presented an opportunity to put a paper to BW suggesting a relaxation of the present regime for managing the use of the tunnel. The paper is summarized as follows:-

The present method of operation consumes excessive manpower and cash. This diverts BW's already scarce resources away from maintenance of the canal. The restricted times of opening and of passage through the flights either side of the tunnel are highly inconvenient to boat users. This, added to the reputation of the Narrow as a difficult canal to navigate, acts as a powerful deterrent to boaters. This is against the interests of BW, who need more traffic to justify the expense of maintaining the canal. 

This paper suggests that the present operating method is based on an over-cautious safety case.
Other ways of operating the tunnel are recommended for further study :-
1. Allow boats to pass through the tunnel under their own power.
2. As 1. but with forced ventilation.
3. As 1. but with gas detection and gas masks for use in emergencies.
4. Allow boaters to take their own boats through the tunnel but powered by small electric tugs. 

Improvements to the water supply without unduly limiting boat movements should be considered :-
1. Allow boats to use of Diggle and Marsden flights more frequently than at present. This might necessitate addressing lock leakage.
2. Back pump to summit pound from Lock 33E.
3. Tap into available unused water supply at Lock 24W and back pump to summit pound.
In all cases, it is recommended that emergency communications equipment be provided.

Last April, BW called a meeting of representatives from a number of organisations, the canal society, IWA, boat clubs, hire businesses and individuals to discuss operation of the tunnel and HCS' paper was tabled at the meeting. BW agreed to review the whole method of operating. This would entail carrying out atmospheric tests on the restored tunnel. Tests had been carried out in the early 1990s when the tunnel was partly blocked by roof falls. 

A study then concluded that there would be ventilation problems but no new tests had been undertaken to verify the position since the tunnel was restored. 

In October BW took the representatives through the tunnel and there are now grounds for optimism that the whole operation will be improved. Consultants have undertaken new atmospheric tests with a diesel powered boat. The initial results are very encouraging but further tests will have to be undertaken using boats with older engines, taking more than one through at a time and in varying wind conditions. 

No immediate changes are expected for 2008, but in the longer term, watch this space!

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