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Summit Tunnel
Bottomley, Walsden, West Riding of Yorkshire, UK
associated engineer
Thomas Longridge Gooch
George Stephenson
date  September 1837 - 1st March 1841
era  Victorian  |  category  Tunnel  |  reference  SD939208
ICE reference number  HEW 1003
Summit Tunnel lies between the Yorkshire towns of Littleborough and Todmorden, at the highest part of the 82km long Manchester & Leeds Railway, which follows a similar route to the earlier Rochdale Canal. At the time of its construction, it was the world’s longest railway tunnel and completed the first trans-Pennine line.
Thomas Gooch had worked with both George and Robert Stephenson on various railway schemes since 1825. Between spring 1835 and 1844, he was 'acting' engineer to the Manchester & Leeds Railway Company on George Stephenson's behalf. Work began at Summit Tunnel in September 1837, Gooch's brother Daniel joining the team for a short time before becoming locomotive engineer to the Great Western Railway.
The horseshoe-shaped tunnel is 2,638m long and 6.6m high inside, and its 7.9m span is wide enough for two tracks. It is lined with bricks, and there were 14 ventilation shafts, from 28m to 94m deep between the tunnel and the moorland above, though one (no.6) was later sealed because of falling rocks. James Wood, chairman of the Manchester & Leeds Railway laid the first brick in August 1838.
The tunnel had a workforce of between 800 and 1,250 men and boys, aided by about 100 horses and 13 stationary engines used mainly for hauling excavated material out of the shafts. Inside it, every piece of rock was hewn with hand tools by candlelight. The railway track was originally laid directly onto chunks of the excavated rock but later more traditional wooden sleepers were used. The rocks weren't wasted though — they were used to construct part of Blackpool Promenade.
The bedrock and blue shale through which the tunnel runs proved to be harder to excavate than anticipated and slow progress led to the original contractors being sacked in March 1839. Under new contractors the pace of work increased until a strike by bricklayers occurred in March 1840. However, the last brick was laid on 9th December that year.
Every brick was handmade locally and up to 60,000 could be laid in a day — the tunnel contains 23 million of them. The mortar type used was known as Roman cement, and was selected for its impermeability to water. Some 8,100 tonnes (dry weight) of cement were brought to the tunnel from Hull.
The opening was planned for New Year’s Eve 1840 but a defective invert 0.8km from one end of the tunnel had displaced the central track drain. Following repairs, the tunnel was opened by Sir Frederick Smith, Government inspector of railways, on Monday 1st March 1841. It had cost £251,000 and claimed 41 lives.
On 20th December 1984, a freight train with 1,000 tonnes of petrol in 13 tankers was derailed in the tunnel by a faulty axle. One of the tankers split its load and the ensuing fire burned for four days, reaching a temperature of 1,200 deg C — hot enough to vitrify the bricks. Fortunately nobody was injured and damage to the tunnel lining was minimal, owing to the combustion gases being able to escape through the ventilation shafts. Altogether 500m of track and sleepers were replaced, and the tunnel re-opened to traffic on 19th August 1985.
Assistant engineer: Barnard Dickinson (1838-41)
Contractor: Evans, Stewart and Copeland (1837-39)
Contractor: John Stephenson (1839-41)
Research: ECPK
bibliography
“Summit Tunnel” by Joan Higson
150th anniversary booklet, 1991
available at http://www.link4life.org
http://manchesterhistory.net
http://menmedia.co.uk
www.fire-magazine.com
www.nce.co.uk
reference sources   CEH NorthBDCE2BRHSmiles3
Location

Summit Tunnel