Was Woodhead electrification a white elephant?

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Llandudno

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Electrifying Woodhead....?

It was completed, of course, but closed prematurely because of wrong/outdated electricity supply?
 
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snowball

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Electrifying Woodhead....?

It was completed, of course, but closed prematurely because of wrong/outdated electricity supply?
I thought it was closed because the electric power industry built power stations east of the Pennines where the remaining coal reserves were and strung up the National Grid, removing the need for trains to carry coal to power stations on the west side.

If converting Woodhead to 25kV AC could have saved the line, then that would have been done, as happened to Glossop, Hadfield, Altrincham and the Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street lines.
 

Journeyman

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Electrifying Woodhead....?

It was completed, of course, but closed prematurely because of wrong/outdated electricity supply?
Both the locos and electrical equipment needed replacement by the early eighties - they were both essentially based on pre-war standards - but by then traffic over the line had dropped so much it wasn't worth the money to do it.

The locos had a decent innings, and worked hard during their lives.
 

A0wen

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Electrifying Woodhead....?

It was completed, of course, but closed prematurely because of wrong/outdated electricity supply?

Don't forget the planning for electrification had been done pre WW2 and was completed in 1955 and at that time the agreed standard for OHL was 1.5kv DC. It was a year later in 1956 BR changed that and adopted the 25kv AC standard.

BR got about 30 years use out the locos and EMUs, so I'd argue this wasn't a waste. Bit like the Bury line's 1200v DC 3rd rail - the stock BR put on it lasted over 30 years, so more than covering the investment.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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It's ironic that the east-west run with power station fuel has now resumed in reverse, with biomass trains running Liverpool-Drax.
It would have a much clearer run today if the Woodhead route with its connections west and east of the Pennines still existed.
No need for grand tours of Cheshire and clogging up key trans-Pennine passenger routes on the way.
 

Carlisle

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It would have a much clearer run today if the Woodhead route with its connections west and east of the Pennines still existed.
True but as passenger services only lasted around a decade after electrification, on hindsight it clearly wasn’t the best choice of route for splashing cash on modernisation
 

zwk500

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It would have a much clearer run today if the Woodhead route with its connections west and east of the Pennines still existed.
We've got very far from the thread given that Woodhead was, by any reasonable definition, completed.

However, on the West of the Pennines you'd still have to go through one of Stockport, Piccadilly or Victoria to get to Hadfield, and on the East of the Pennines the only available route to Drax without a runround is Stocksbridge-Tinsley Jns-Aldwarke-Doncaster-ECML-Shaftholme Jn-Knottingley-Drax. So in Manchester you're still stuffing up one line or the other, and in Yorkshire you trade stuffing up the transpennine for increased pressure on Swinton-Doncaster and the ECML (granted beyond Arksey the ECML isn't the problem).
 

Ianno87

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We've got very far from the thread given that Woodhead was, by any reasonable definition, completed.

However, on the West of the Pennines you'd still have to go through one of Stockport, Piccadilly or Victoria to get to Hadfield,

Did the connection off the Fallowfield Loop at Trafford Park (Throstle Nest Jn) only point towards Manchester?
 

zwk500

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Did the connection off the Fallowfield Loop at Trafford Park (Throstle Nest Jn) only point towards Manchester?
Not sure, I was meaning if other closures had taken place and only Hadfield - Stocksbridge had remained. Manchester's railways would certainly have seen rationalisation and conversion to road or tram even if Woodhead had survived, although in what form is impossible to know for sure.

I don't know Manchester's historic rail geography too well, so not sure on terminology but there were two historic routes via Northenden (via Warrington Central or via Bank Quay LL) that could get you from Liverpool to Woodhead without going through Stockport or Central Manchester. However the sections between CLC/Arpley and Deansgate Jn, Cheadle Junction and Woodley, and Apethorne Junction and Godley Junction are all now closed. The section between Cheadle Junction and Woodley is now largely occupied by the M60, the other 2 are largely unobstructed aligments, although they would require new bridges for Manchester Ship Canal.
 

WesternLancer

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True but as passenger services only lasted around a decade after electrification, on hindsight it clearly wasn’t the best choice of route for splashing cash on modernisation
I'd wondered about this, but was this simply that Sheffield to Manchester did not warrant what would have seemed a 'modern' electric inter city passenger service, and that Hope Valley was deemed adequate - even a mere 10 years after the wires went up? Or was it that at that stage there was so much coal traffic to be hauled electrically that the passenger trains 'got in the way'?
 

30907

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I'd wondered about this, but was this simply that Sheffield to Manchester did not warrant what would have seemed a 'modern' electric inter city passenger service, and that Hope Valley was deemed adequate - even a mere 10 years after the wires went up? Or was it that at that stage there was so much coal traffic to be hauled electrically that the passenger trains 'got in the way'?
The former, though it was nearer 20 years: BR was into removing duplicate routes/stations, and Sheffield Vic, once the GC south was gone, was an obvious candidate.
And DMUs for one-hour journeys (and far longer) were flavour of the month.
 

tbwbear

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I'd wondered about this, but was this simply that Sheffield to Manchester did not warrant what would have seemed a 'modern' electric inter city passenger service, and that Hope Valley was deemed adequate - even a mere 10 years after the wires went up? Or was it that at that stage there was so much coal traffic to be hauled electrically that the passenger trains 'got in the way'?
I think it was a bit of both wasn't it?

I am sure if there had been an easy way to route the passenger service into Midland, they would have kept it. By the mid 1960s after Nunnery Curve opened Victoria was left with only the Manchester trains: a pretty isolated service.

But certainly, they wanted to concentrate as much freight as possible on the route in the late 60s - especially the Fiddlers-Ferry-bound coal as has been mentioned up thread - and passengers were not the priority. Woodhead is mentioned in the 2nd Beeching Plan of 1965 as a route to be developed for freight and in the early 1960s it was carrying more freight than the other 3 trans pennine routes put together. And don't forget that Beeching thought bulk freight and freightliner would be the salvation of the railways, less so passenger traffic.

The second Beeching plan wanted to retain Woodhead and Calder Valley only - with the loss of Standedge, Hope and (as happened) the Peak Forest line.
 
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WesternLancer

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The former, though it was nearer 20 years: BR was into removing duplicate routes/stations, and Sheffield Vic, once the GC south was gone, was an obvious candidate.
And DMUs for one-hour journeys (and far longer) were flavour of the month.
Thanks

I think it was a bit of both wasn't it?

I am sure if there had been an easy way to route the passenger service into Midland, they would have kept it. By the mid 1960s after Nunnery Curve opened Victoria was left with only the Manchester / Huddersfield trains: a pretty isolated service.

But certainly, they wanted to concentrate as much freight as possible on the route in the late 60s - especially the Fiddlers-Ferry-bound coal as has been mentioned up thread - and passengers were not the priority. Woodhead is mentioned in the 2nd Beeching Plan of 1965 as a route to be developed for freight and in the early 1960s it was carrying more freight than the other 3 trans pennine routes put together. And don't forget that Beeching thought bulk freight and freightliner would be the salvation of the railways, less so passenger traffic.

The second Beeching plan wanted to retain Woodhead and Calder Valley only - with the loss of Standedge, Hope and (as happened) the Peak Forest line.
Thanks for these added context points. Was unaware of the detail of the 2nd Beeching plan ref this.
 

jfollows

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Did the connection off the Fallowfield Loop at Trafford Park (Throstle Nest Jn) only point towards Manchester?
There was a curve to the CLC (away from Manchester) which was used by 4D59 17:25 Trafford Park to Holyhead Freightliner in the 1970s which went a bit round the houses but went through Manchester Victoria at 18:10. Joe Brown's new rail atlas shows it in existence until 15/10/1988 - when the Fallowfield Loop closed.

The route towards Manchester was of course the main line to Manchester Central which closed in May 1969 so all that was left ten years later is as shown in the attached diagram.

EDIT - So what I'm saying is that I think the connection off the Fallowfield Loop at Trafford Park only pointed away from Manchester by the late 1970s, but there was a connection at Throstle Nest Junction between the two parallel lines when Manchester Central was open giving a route towards Deansgate as you say.

Another EDIT - I only travelled as far as Reddish Depot on the Fallowfield Loop, when there was a shuttle service to the depot open day earlier in the 1970s (9/9/1973 I now find, so I was just under 12 years old then), I think from Manchester Piccadilly. I missed an opportunity before October 1988 when the Liverpool-Manchester CLC service was diverted over the Fallowfield Loop, presumably on a Sunday because of engineering works, which again was a roundabout route into Manchester but with no need to reverse.
 

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Revaulx

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It’s well known that the wires were supposed to continue round the Fallowfield loop to Central instead of ending at Reddish shed. This alone wouldn’t have changed much, but one does wonder what the LNER’s original vision was. Extension eastwards from both Wath and Sheffield to Doncaster? Thence to Scunthorpe, Immingham and Cleethorpes? Westwards along the CLC? Of course completion of the original bit was massively delayed owing to the war, and by the time it was opened the LNER had ceased to exist and 1500v DC was old hat.
 

Spartacus

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No, by the time it was closed everything associated with the electrification, with the possible exception of the gantries, which were pre-war anyway, was getting long in the tooth and in need of replacement. Even the 77s, which had seen an easier life than the 76s before the were exported, barely outlasted the 506s, which themselves barely outlasted the line.

Before electrification loaded freights up Worsborough bank would need as many as 5 locos, and of course 5 crews. While later MGR trains could need as many as 4 76s, they'd only need 2 crews due to multiple working, all in all a great saving, especially when going downhill regenerative braking was employed.

With cross pennine freight a fraction of what it had been, with rationalisation taking place on other routes too, it wasn't just a drop on the Woodhead, there was no business case for it to be renewed, with practically everything built post war needing to be done.
 

pdeaves

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True but as passenger services only lasted around a decade after electrification, on hindsight it clearly wasn’t the best choice of route for splashing cash on modernisation
Any particular reason why a route has to have a passenger service to warrant modernisation? Or, why can't freight routes be modernised?
 

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Any particular reason why a route has to have a passenger service to warrant modernisation? Or, why can't freight routes be modernised?
Particularly in steam days electrification could be ‘sold’ on the benefits of acceleration and cleanliness.
 

tbwbear

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Any particular reason why a route has to have a passenger service to warrant modernisation? Or, why can't freight routes be modernised?
None.

And you can certainly argue that Woodhead WAS modernised mainly for freight. Don't forget that the Wath branch was only ever a freight railway and that was a vital part of the scheme.

Even in the early 60s freight was generating much more revenue than passenger services and Woodhead was certainly in favour (as a model route for moving bulk freight) with Beeching despite the 1500v DC system. There were even early 60s suggestions of westward extensions of the scheme and of course it was (very modestly) extended to Tinsley in 1965.

It would probably still be open as a freight-only route had its main revenue source (westbound coal) not disappeared almost completely in the 1970s.

Ironically, it was the Manchester-Glossop-Hadfield Passenger service that the Beeching 1963 report listed for closure.
 
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Spartacus

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Any particular reason why a route has to have a passenger service to warrant modernisation? Or, why can't freight routes be modernised?

That's it, the reason for it being electrified was purely because of the freight traffic and difficulty in working it with steam.

A good illustration is that electrification only took 9 minutes off express passenger schedules, for loaded coal traffic it knocked off I think 85 minutes.
 
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A0wen

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Ironically, it was the Manchester-Glossop-Hadfield Passenger service that the Beeching 1963 report listed for closure.

But Hadfield station wasn't listed for closure, so presumably Beeching envisaged an ongoing Manchester - Sheffield service which would serve Hadfield and other stations. Dinting and Glossop are listed for closure in the report.
 

tbwbear

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But Hadfield station wasn't listed for closure, so presumably Beeching envisaged an ongoing Manchester - Sheffield service which would serve Hadfield and other stations. Dinting and Glossop are listed for closure in the report.
I think just Guide Bridge and Hadfield (maybe more ?) would have been retained as stops on the Manchester to Sheffield service.
 

Journeyman

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I agree that it was the absolutely precipitous drop in traffic, plus the obsolete equipment all needing renewal at once, that saw off the line. I honestly don't see what else BR could have done in the difficult economic climate that prevailed at the time. It would have cost many millions to upgrade the line to AC, with the only spare locos at the time being the less reliable members of the 81s to 85s.

Even if the line had held on for a few more years, I doubt it would have survived the Miner's Strike.

The only piece of infrastructure that didn't get a decently long life - for trains at least - is the new tunnel, but it quietly earns its keep doing something else these days.
 

Taunton

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Of course completion of the original bit was massively delayed owing to the war, and by the time it was opened the LNER had ceased to exist and 1500v DC was old hat.
No it wasn't. Woodhead was finished and in use before Shenfield-Southend electrification, also at 1500v DC, was even started, and the UK industry was busy exporting 1500v installations to countries like Netherlands - getting there before the French supply industry did. Notably France, which now has about equal amounts of 1500v and 25Kv, has never seen the need to convert the former to the latter.

25Kv in the 1950s and into the 1960s was absolute prototyping, and came in early years with a series of failures, fires, explosions, and temporary withdrawal of service like nothing ever seen on DC installations. All it really did was take the substations from lineside and put them into every locomotive and multiple unit. Regeneration, which was a key part of the Woodhead efficiency, was never possible with AC, until very recent times and power electronics.

The principal reason anyway was that the original Woodhead tunnels were no longer fit for purpose, with serious health issues for the regular loco crews, and a new replacement tunnel was needed. This more than anything drove the electrification.
 

Revaulx

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No it wasn't. Woodhead was finished and in use before Shenfield-Southend electrification, also at 1500v DC, was even started, and the UK industry was busy exporting 1500v installations to countries like Netherlands - getting there before the French supply industry did. Notably France, which now has about equal amounts of 1500v and 25Kv, has never seen the need to convert the former to the latter.

25Kv in the 1950s and into the 1960s was absolute prototyping, and came in early years with a series of failures, fires, explosions, and temporary withdrawal of service like nothing ever seen on DC installations. All it really did was take the substations from lineside and put them into every locomotive and multiple unit. Regeneration, which was a key part of the Woodhead efficiency, was never possible with AC, until very recent times and power electronics.

The principal reason anyway was that the original Woodhead tunnels were no longer fit for purpose, with serious health issues for the regular loco crews, and a new replacement tunnel was needed. This more than anything drove the electrification.
Oh I agree. “Old hat” was a deliberately flippant term. Nevertheless, the decision to go for 25Kv only a year or so after MSW was completed didn’t exactly enhance the prospects of its electrification being extended.

I thought the original intention was to wire through the original tunnels, and it was only once work was well underway that it was decided to replace them, thus further adding to the delay in completion.

The point I was trying to make was that had the initial project been completed in the expected time frame (1944?) the impetus to extend it eastwards and westwards may well have been there. All the delays (the biggest one: the war, not being the railway’s fault) led to that impetus being lost.
 
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Spartacus

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Oh I agree. “Old hat” was a deliberately flippant term. Nevertheless, the decision to go for 25Kv only a year or so after MSW was completed didn’t exactly enhance the prospects of its electrification being extended.

I thought the original intention was to wire through the original tunnels, and it was only once work was well underway that it was decided to replace them, thus further adding to the delay in completion.

The point is was trying to make was that had the initial project been completed in the expected time frame (1944?) the impetus to extend it eastwards and westwards may well have been there. All the delays (the biggest one: the war, not being the railway’s fault) led to that impetus being lost.

It was first seriously mooted in the early 1920s, about the same time as the NER was planning on electrifying it's section of the ECML, and built the EE1, unlucky 13, which at a cost of £27,767 then is about the same as a 66 today. Now THAT was a white elephant, which somehow lasted until 1950.
 

edwin_m

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It’s well known that the wires were supposed to continue round the Fallowfield loop to Central instead of ending at Reddish shed. This alone wouldn’t have changed much
It would have allowed through Liverpool trains to change locos at Central where they had to reverse anyway, rather than at Guide Bridge which was rather awkward according to a post on another thread. Would that have been enough to establish a worthwhile Sheffield-Manchester-Liverpool "corridor" in the 1950s, rather than just a duplicate Sheffield-Manchester route?
Any particular reason why a route has to have a passenger service to warrant modernisation? Or, why can't freight routes be modernised?
But the absence of a passenger service meant there was no reason to keep it open once its freight traffic disappeared. Ironically, Woodhead would have been handy today to keep the Manchester-Sheffield fast passenger service out of the way of the freight! Although there were obvious problems with doing this, particularly the location of Sheffield Victoria well outside the city centre.
 

tbwbear

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Oh I agree. “Old hat” was a deliberately flippant term. Nevertheless, the decision to go for 25Kv only a year or so after MSW was completed didn’t exactly enhance the prospects of its electrification being extended.

I thought the original intention was to wire through the original tunnels, and it was only once work was well underway that it was decided to replace them, thus further adding to the delay in completion.

The point is was trying to make was that had the initial project been completed in the expected time frame (1944?) the impetus to extend it eastwards and westwards may well have been there. All the delays (the biggest one: the war, not being the railway’s fault) led to that impetus being lost.

The MSW (Woodhead) scheme was finally completed in 1954 and the decision that all future overhead electrification would be at 25kv AC was made in 1955, I think, so one year is correct. That said, there is nothing to say that there couldn't have been logical extensions made to the orginal scheme at 1500v DC.

The line's electrical control centre at Penistone had space for more panels to take into account for this. Retford is one that is rumoured and there was certainly talk of extending the scheme west into the 1960s.

As Taunton says, there should have been no reason (other than BR's own questionable policy) why 1500v DC couldn't have lived on beside the new AC lines. (Japan is another country where this still happens today) and it is true that the Class 76 was a very robust design and one of the most reliable on BR. Certainly a bit better than the dear old Class 84!

If perhaps there had been just a bit more DC done before 1955, it could have happened. Obviously there are now dual voltage locomotives in Japan, France and elsewhere so it is not even that much of an issue as it once might have been.


I am planning a walk from Manchester (Broadbottom / Hadfield) to Sheffield and then Wath to Penistone in June over as much as the line / close to it - as possible. The first time I have been back since photographing it and travelling on it as a teenager in 1979, so I am doing a bit of research for my blog at the moment.

I found this from the glossop heritage society very useful - it quotes local newspapers of the time and contains some details I have not seen elsewhere.

https://glossopheritage.co.uk/ghtarchive/railways5/

There is a quote from an article in April 38 saying the scheme could be finished in 2.5 years - so 1941/42 is one possible date. It also supports the theory that the plan was to wire through the original tunnels.

The usual explanation is that a thorough inspection after the war revealed it to be impossible to proceed through the old bores. Although there is always the question of extra intensive use during the conflict, one wonders whether they might have still discovered the same thing in 1940?

The delay was about 10-13 years, 6 or 7 of that for the war and the rest for a new tunnel.

But, yes, without the war (with or without the new tunnel) there probably would have been a bit more of a 1500v DC network and that might have passed a critical mass test for retention as in France, Japan and elsewhere.
 
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tbtc

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electrification only took 9 minutes off express passenger schedules, for loaded coal traffic it knocked off I think 85 minutes

In that case, you could argue that the electrification paid for itself over the era that it was in operation - given the large volumes of Yorkshire coal that was needed west of the Pennines, what alternatives were there? Quadruple headed diesel hauled services?

Costly (and didn't last long term) but probably a price worth paying to ensure the energy supplies were efficient during that period - I guess we could think of electrification costs as a cost to the energy industry rather than a cost to the railway industry (okay, it was all nationalised at the time, so not accounted for in the way it would have to be today, but it feels more like "this is what the energy industry needed to pay to ensure previous black diamonds from the Dearne Valley reached the power stations" etc

Thankfully nowadays we're switched on to renewables etc, but this was a very different era.
 

ac6000cw

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Was Woodhead electrification a white elephant?​

No - it just outlived it's usefulness, and 'fossilised' steam-age methods of working (intermediate yards and traction changes) into the operation of the power station coal trains due to it's limited geographical scope.
 
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