An important anniversary in the history of railways in Yorkshire passed on March 1. It was 175 years since the completion of the first railway to cross the Pennines enabling trains to run through between Leeds and Manchester.
The last link in the Manchester and Leeds Railway, forerunner of the old Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway was the Summit Tunnel between Todmorden (now in the West Yorkshire) and Littleborough (now in Greater Manchester). In 1841 both towns were Lancashire. This tunnel at 2,885 yards long was the longest railway tunnel in the world when opened. Twenty three million bricks and eight thousand tons of Roman cement were used in the construction which lasted for three years and cost £251,000.
At first the route was circuitous in Yorkshire. It ran via Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Brighouse, Wakefield and Normanton. Later the main line was diverted to run from Sowerby Bridge via Halifax and Bradford. The line was an immediate success carrying increasing numbers of passengers and tonnage of freight. Nowadays it is known as the Calder Valley line and whilst it is no longer the principal route for express services (which now run via Stalybridge and Huddersfield), no fewer than eight passenger trains an hour pass through Summit Tunnel.
With its numerous tunnels, viaducts, and bridges it is often regarded as one of George Stephenson’s greatest civil engineering achievements. There are spectacular views of Pennine valley scenery from a train travelling the Calder Valley line, best seen in spring before the trees are in leaf.
In December 1984 a petrol train derailed and caught fire in the tunnel and for several days the tunnel was an inferno and some of the brickwork melted. Yet it had been so well constructed that it re-opened to traffic within eight months. A photographic exhibition will be mounted at the Bury Transport Museum.