Woodhead line

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Woodhead line
Class 76 locomotives 76033 and 76031 at Woodhead on 24th March 1981.jpeg
An electric freight train headed by two Class 76s, about to enter Woodhead Tunnel in 1981
StatusPartially open
Locale South Yorkshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and Lancashire
TerminiSheffield: Rotherwood Sidings / Wath
Manchester: London Road (1845–1960)
Piccadilly (1960–70)
TypeMain line
SystemNational Rail Network
Rolling stock BR class 76, BR class 77, BR class 506
Closed1970 (passengers) and 1981 (goods)
Number of tracks2
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification 1,500  V   DC Overhead line
Route map
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electric railway
incorporating the Woodhead line
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Manchester Piccadilly
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Guide Bridge
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Dewsnap sidings
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Flowery Field
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Newton for Hyde
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Godley East
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Godley Junction
Hope Valley line
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Dunford Bridge
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Hepworth Iron and Steel
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Hazlehead Bridge
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Penistone Goods
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Barnsley Junction
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Oxspring viaduct
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Oxspring tunnel
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Silkstone tunnel 2
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Silkstone tunnel 1
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Swaithe viaduct
Hallam Line & Penistone Line
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exchange sidings
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Wombwell Main Junction
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Aldham Junction
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Wombwell Central
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Elsecar Junction
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Wath Central
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Rumtickle Viaduct
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Stocksbridge steel works
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Oughty Bridge
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Wadsley Bridge
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Sheffield Victoria
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Sheffield (Midland)
Midland Main Line
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Nunnery Junction
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Woodburn Junction
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Rotherwood Sidings
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The Woodhead line was a railway line linking Sheffield, Penistone and Manchester in the north of England. A key feature of the route is the passage under the high moorlands of the northern Peak District through the Woodhead Tunnels. The line was electrified in 1953 and closed between Hadfield and Penistone in 1981.


The Manchester to Glossop/Hadfield section is still in operation; east of the Pennines, the vicinity of Penistone and the Sheffield to Deepcar section are still open, although the latter is goods-only. The track has been lifted on other sections and much of the trackbed now forms part of the Trans-Pennine Trail and National Cycle Route 62. The Woodhead line has achieved a cult status with collectors of railway memorabilia.


Railway Clearing House map showing the Wadsley Bridge to Sheffield Victoria section of the route Brightside, Shefield & Blackburn Valley Treeton RJD 67.jpg
Railway Clearing House map showing the Wadsley Bridge to Sheffield Victoria section of the route

The route from Manchester to Sheffield was 41+12 miles (66.8 km) with stops at Gorton, Guide Bridge, Newton, Godley Junction, Mottram, Glossop and Dinting, Glossop Central, Hadfield, Crowden, Woodhead, Dunford Bridge, Hazlehead Bridge, Penistone, Wortley, Deepcar, Oughtibridge, Wadsley Bridge and Neepsend. [1] Services still run from Manchester to Glossop and Hadfield; trains also run from Sheffield to Penistone, continuing onwards to Huddersfield. [2] The section from Deepcar to Sheffield is currently used for goods.


The line in 1951 before electrification, looking westwards from above Woodhead Tunnel. Woodhead railway station is visible in the foreground. Woodhead Line 2048315.jpg
The line in 1951 before electrification, looking westwards from above Woodhead Tunnel. Woodhead railway station is visible in the foreground.


Goods train near West Silkstone Junction in 1950 Silkstone Junction geograph-2140340.jpg
Goods train near West Silkstone Junction in 1950

The line opened in 1845. It was built by the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway [3] with Joseph Locke as its engineer. In 1847, the railway merged with the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway, the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway and the Grimsby Docks Company to form the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway; it changed its name to the Great Central Railway (GCR) in 1897. [4] Ownership passed to the LNER in 1923 and, finally, to British Railways Eastern Region in 1948. [5]

The original eastern terminus of the line was at Bridgehouses railway station. By the time of the creation of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1847, the railway station at Bridgehouses had been outgrown. A 0.6-mile (1 km) extension including the Wicker Arches viaduct, engineered by John Fowler, was constructed to the new Sheffield Victoria station, which opened in 1851.

Both goods and passenger traffic were very heavy; therefore, some sections of the line were quadrupled.


Electric locomotives at Penistone railway station in 1954 Penistone Station geograph-2383830-by-Ben-Brooksbank.jpg
Electric locomotives at Penistone railway station in 1954

Electrification was first mooted by the Great Central Railway, owing to the difficulties of operating heavy steam-hauled coal trains on the Penistone–Wath section (the Worsborough branch); a line with steep gradients and several tunnels. Definitive plans were drawn up by the LNER in 1936; many of the gantries for the catenary were erected before the Second World War. [6]

The Second World War prevented progress on electrification, but the plans were restarted immediately after the war; however, this time with plans for a new double-track Woodhead Tunnel. This third Woodhead Tunnel was constructed to replace the twin single-bore Victorian tunnels, which had been damaged by years of smoke from steam engines. [7] A second Thurgoland Tunnel was also required, as the existing tunnel had inadequate clearance for twin electrified lines.

The Manchester–Sheffield–Wath electrification project was finally completed in 1955, using overhead wires energised at 1,500 volts DC. Whilst this was tried and tested technology (and is still standard in the Netherlands), the comparatively low voltage meant that a large number of electricity substations and heavy cabling would be required. It also made regenerative braking by transfer of power from descending to ascending trains in the same section of line comparatively straightforward. The main contractor for the electrification work was Bruce Peebles & Co. Ltd., Edinburgh. Following technological developments, especially in France, 1.5 kV DC was soon superseded by the later network standard of 25 kV AC. This left the Woodhead line as the only main line in the UK with 1.5 kV DC electrification.

New electric locomotives for the line were constructed at Gorton locomotive works, Manchester. These were the EM1/Class 76, for freight trains and some passenger duties, and EM2/Class 77 locomotives for express passenger trains. Given the steep gradients on the line, the locomotives were able to use regenerative braking on their descent from Woodhead. Rheostatic braking was also later added. Additionally, Class 506 electric multiple units were built for suburban services between Manchester, Glossop and Hadfield. [8] A new depot at Reddish, situated on the Fallowfield Loop line, was built in 1954 to maintain the new locomotives and EMUs.


The Longdendale Trail, on the former trackbed between Hadfield and Woodhead Longdendale trail.jpg
The Longdendale Trail, on the former trackbed between Hadfield and Woodhead

Having seen major investment in the 1950s, the line was controversially closed to passenger traffic on 5 January 1970. [9] This was despite a recommendation in the Beeching Report, which had earmarked the Hope Valley line for closure to passenger services instead. However, it was clear that this alternative Hope Valley route through Edale would be required to remain open for social and network reasons and could handle all Manchester–Sheffield passenger traffic. The Class 77 locomotives, which were used to haul passenger trains, were sold to the Netherlands Railways, where 1500 V DC electrification was the standard and remains so.

By the late 1970s, a large part of the remaining freight traffic consisted of coal trains from Yorkshire to Fiddlers Ferry power station near Widnes, which required a change to diesel haulage for the final part of the journey.

By the early 1980s, the combination of alternative available routes, an absence of passenger traffic since 1970 and a downturn in coal traffic across the Pennines, along with a need to eventually expensively upgrade or replace the non-standard electrical supply systems and Class 76 locomotives, resulted in the line's closure east of Hadfield. The last train operated on 18 July 1981 and the line was mothballed. [10]

The tracks were lifted in the mid-1980s, ending any short-term hopes of reopening. Almost the entire line east of Hadfield has now been lifted, apart from a few short sections shared with other lines, notably at Penistone. The trackbed between Hadfield and the Woodhead Tunnel has currently been adapted as the Longdendale Trail for hikers and cyclists.

Possible closure of Woodhead 3

In 2007, National Grid, the present owners of all three of the tunnels, proposed to move electricity cables from the Victorian to the 1953 tunnel. This work started in 2008 and was completed in 2012. This has meant it is now not possible to use the newer tunnel for railway traffic. In 2007, the Peak District National Park and other relevant local bodies provided many reasons why the tunnel should remain available for potential re-opening [11] but, in September 2007, the government declined to intervene in the matter. [12]

The surviving sections

The suburban passenger service between Manchester, Glossop and Hadfield remains in service, but the electricity supply was converted to standard 25 kV AC overhead in December 1984. The Class 506 EMUs were then withdrawn and replaced by Class 303 EMUs from the Glasgow area. The service is now operated (as of 2013) by Class 323 EMUs.

The Huddersfield line platforms at Penistone railway station remain open, used by the Huddersfield-Sheffield Class 144 diesel-operated local trains, which traverse the line the short distance between the former Huddersfield Junction and Barnsley Junction.

There is just one other part of the line open to traffic, albeit goods, and that is the single line from Woodburn Junction, on the Sheffield–Lincoln line, to Deepcar to serve the Liberty Speciality steel works at Stocksbridge. Currently, there is a single return trip per evening, Monday to Friday, from Aldwarke steelworks in Rotherham to the Stocksbridge site.

Proposals for the future

In 1967, it was proposed that parts of the route and the Woodhead Tunnel be used as part of a new Manchester to Sheffield motorway. [13] Only a short section of this motorway within Greater Manchester, now known as the M67, was ever built.

In 1999, Central Railway proposed using the Woodhead tunnel as part of an ambitious scheme to connect Liverpool to London. [14]

In 2002, the Trans-Pennine Rail Group, a broadly based group of County Councils, Unitary Authorities, Passenger Transport Executives and the Peak District National Park Authority, [15] provided evidence to the Transport Select Committee which identified interest from bidders for the Transpennine rail franchise in reopening the Woodhead route. [16] In 2007, the Transpennine Rail Group was wound up as its work was now being done by the Northern Way and the North West Rail Campaign. [17]

In 2003, the Greater Manchester Branch of the Institute of Logistics and Transport presented evidence to a Parliamentary Select committee mentioning Arriva's interest in opening the Woodhead line and Tunnel as part of their bid for the Transpennine rail franchise. [18]

In 2006, Translink proposed opening the tunnel and the route for rail freight. [19] This proposal is favoured by some groups opposing the construction of the Longdendale Bypass, a controversial £180m bypass for Mottram in Longdendale, Hollingworth and Tintwistle (which is officially known as the A57/A628 Mottram-in-Longdendale, Hollingworth & Tintwistle Bypass). [20]

There are also plans to restore the route from Deepcar to Sheffield, as a double-tracked heritage line called the Don Valley Railway, to link up with the Sheffield Supertram at Nunnery Junction called "Sheffield Don Valley". In 2010, Don Valley Railway Ltd, Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive proposed reopening the line to passenger services between Sheffield and Stocksbridge. Stations would be constructed at Stocksbridge, Deepcar, Wharncliffe Side and Oughtibridge with a Sheffield city centre terminus near to the Nunnery Square Supertram stop. The project could cost £4.3 million at a minimum. [21]

On 18 January 2012, during a debate on the proposed Northern Hub (formerly known as the Manchester Rail Hub), Theresa Villiers, the Minister for Rail and Aviation, said "The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge has again called for the reopening of the Woodhead route. I have to say that was not one that was prioritised as part of the Northern Hub because of the capacity that is still available on the Hope Valley line." [22]

In 2017, a newly formed company, Grand Northern Group, announced plans to reopen the line to freight traffic as part of a plan for a 'rolling highway' which would carry lorries on freight trains and relieve congestion on the Woodhead Bypass. The plans would see trains running from Bredbury, by J25 of the M60, to Tinsley, near the M1. [23] [24]

In March 2020, a bid was made to the Restoring Your Railway fund to get funds for a feasibility study into reinstating the line between Stocksbridge and Sheffield. This bid was unsuccessful. [25]

ITV's Coronation Street character Roy Cropper is building a 00 gauge 1960s-era model layout of the line in the flat above his "Roy's Rolls" Cafe. Although mentioned previously, the layout – as yet incomplete – first featured in episode 8345, first aired on 17 March 2014, when the line's Class 76 and Class 77 locos were mentioned. [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

M67 motorway Motorway in Greater Manchester, England

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Penistone Town and civil parish in South Yorkshire, England

Penistone is a market town and civil parish in the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England, which had a population of 22,909 at the 2011 census. Historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is 8 miles (13 km) west of Barnsley, 17 miles (27 km) north-east of Glossop, 14.2 miles (23 km) north-west of Sheffield, 27 miles (43 km) south-west of Leeds, and 29 miles (47 km) east of Manchester in the foothills of the Pennines.

Hadfield, Derbyshire Human settlement in England

Hadfield is a town in the High Peak of Derbyshire, England. The population of the town's wards in the 2011 Census was 6,305. It lies on the south side of the River Etherow, the border between Derbyshire and Greater Manchester, at the western edge of the Peak District close to Glossop.

Huddersfield line Inter-regional railway in Northern England

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The Penistone Line is operated by Northern in the West Yorkshire Metro and Travel South Yorkshire areas of northern England. It connects Huddersfield and Sheffield via Penistone and Barnsley, serving many rural communities. Metrocards can be used for travel between Huddersfield and Denby Dale and intermediate stations.

Sheffield Victoria railway station Disused railway station in South Yorkshire, England

Sheffield Victoria was the main railway station in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, on the Great Central Railway, between Chesterfield and Penistone.

Woodhead Tunnel Former railway tunnel in Northern England

The Woodhead Tunnels are three parallel trans-Pennine 3-mile (4.8 km) long railway tunnels on the Woodhead Line, a former major rail link from Manchester to Sheffield in Northern England. The western portals of the tunnels are at Woodhead in Derbyshire and the eastern portals are at Dunford Bridge, near Penistone, South Yorkshire.

Penistone railway station Railway station in South Yorkshire, England

Penistone railway station is a railway station which serves the town of Penistone, in the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England. Train services are provided by Northern Trains. The current station opened in 1874, replacing a station solely on the Woodhead Line dating from the line's opening by the Sheffield, Ashton-Under-Lyne and Manchester Railway in 1845.

Guide Bridge railway station Railway station in Greater Manchester, England

Guide Bridge railway station serves Guide Bridge in Audenshaw, Greater Manchester, England, and is operated by Northern Trains. The station is 4+34 miles (7.6 km) east of Manchester Piccadilly on both the Rose Hill Marple and Glossop Lines.

Glossop line

The Manchester–Glossop line is a railway line connecting the city of Manchester with the towns of Hadfield and Glossop in Derbyshire, England. Passenger services on the line are operated by Northern Trains.

The Manchester–Sheffield–Wath electric railway was an electrification scheme on British railways. The route featured long ascents on both sides of the Pennines with the long Woodhead Tunnel at its central summit close to the Woodhead pass. This led to the route being called the Woodhead Line.

Penistone rail accidents

Over the latter years of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries, Penistone in Yorkshire gained a name as an accident black-spot on Britain's railway network; indeed, it could be said to hold the title of the worst accident black-spot in the country. The main line through the town was the Woodhead route of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway between Sheffield Victoria and Manchester, London Road. The line was heavily graded with a summit some 400 yards inside the eastern portal of the Woodhead tunnel.

The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway was an early British railway company which opened in stages between 1841 and 1845 between Sheffield and Manchester via Ashton-under-Lyne. The Pennines formed a formidable barrier, and the line's engineer constructed Woodhead Tunnel, over three miles (4.8 km) long. The company amalgamated with the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway and Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway companies, together forming the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1847.

Dinting railway station Railway station in Derbyshire, England

Dinting railway station serves the village of Dinting near Glossop in Derbyshire, England. The station is on the Manchester-Glossop Line 12+14 miles (19.7 km) east of Manchester Piccadilly. Prior to the Woodhead Line closure in 1981 Dinting was a station on a major cross-Pennine route.

Hadfield railway station

Hadfield railway station serves the Peak District town of Hadfield in Derbyshire, England. The station is one of the twin termini at the Derbyshire end of the Manchester-Glossop Line, the other being Glossop. It was opened by the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway in 1844.

Don Valley Railway

Don Valley Railway first formed as a heritage rail project in September 2003 to operate on the freight rail line between Stocksbridge Steel Works and Sheffield following the route of the former Woodhead Line between Deepcar and Sheffield, The project is developed by Don Valley Railway Ltd., a not-for-profit company and registered charity based in Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire. Original plans to operate heritage rail services for the dual purpose of providing infrastructure for tourism over the weekends, alongside regular commuter services have now shifted towards concentrating on the development of a viable commuter service - though with help of outside assistance heritage plans could be revised.

Stocksbridge Railway

The Stocksbridge Railway was a subsidiary of Samuel Fox and Company and linked the company's works at Stocksbridge, near Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, with the main line of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway at Deepcar. As the size of Fox's steelworks expanded, better transport links were needed, and the railway was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1874. It was completed in 1877, and remained an independent subsidiary until 1992, when it became part of the steelworks operation. When the Woodhead line was closed to the north of Deepcar, the line south to Sheffield was singled, and operates as a long siding.

A628 road Road in Northern England

The A628 is a major road connecting Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire in northern England. It crosses the Pennine hills by way of Longdendale and the Woodhead Pass in the Peak District National Park. The road's altitude and exposure to bad weather create problems in winter and the road is sometimes closed due to snow or high winds.

Padfield Human settlement in England

Padfield is a small village near Hadfield in High Peak, Derbyshire, England. The village is on the west side of the Peak District National Park, and the nearest town is Glossop, where many local amenities and services are based. It is in a conservation area. The population as of the 2011 census was 2,796.

Godley East railway station

Godley East was a railway station in the Godley area of Hyde, Tameside, Greater Manchester, on the Woodhead Line.


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  12. ""PDNPA Planning Committee Report, 28 September 2007"" (PDF). 28 September 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
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  14. "Lords Hansard text for 10 March 1999 (190310-07)". Parliament. 10 March 1999. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
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  17. "TransPennine Rail Group – REPORT OF: STRATEGY DIRECTOR OF GMPTE" (PDF). Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority. 17 April 2007. Retrieved 26 January 2007.
  18. "Memorandum by the Greater Manchester Branch of the Institute of Logistics and Transport (REN 40)". Parliament. 11 July 2003. Retrieved 25 January 2008.
  19. "The Translink Solution". Translink. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
  20. "Line Orders, published 8th February 2007 :: Scheme Impacts". Save Swallows Wood. Retrieved 26 January 2008.
  21. "Stocksbridge re-opening feasible?". Rail Magazine. No. 650. 11–24 August 2010. p. 20.
  22. "Northern Rail Hub debate". They work for you. 12 January 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
  23. Cumber, Robert (29 November 2017). "New 'Grand Northern' railway line between Sheffield and Manchester proposed to ease congestion". Sheffield Star. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  24. "The Grand Northern Railway Project". www.grandnorthern.co.uk. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  25. Restoring Your Railway Fund: bids received gov.uk
  26. ITV Player (accessed 17 March 2014)

Further reading