Summit Tunnel

Summit Tunnel

The Summit Tunnel in England is one of the oldest railway tunnels in the world: it was built between 1838 and 1841 by the Manchester and Leeds Railway beneath the Yorkshire Pennines. The tunnel is located between Littleborough and Walsden (near Todmorden) and created a vital gateway between Manchester and Leeds.


The tunnel is just over 1.6 miles (2.6 km) long and carries two standard-gauge tracks in a single tube, which is shaped like a horseshoe approximately 7.2 m wide and 6.6 m high.

The tunnel was mined by hand through shale, coal and sandstone, then lined with six courses of bricks to form the horseshoe shape. It was aligned by drilling fourteen vertical shafts to provide survey points on the hillside above: after the tunnel was completed two shafts were closed and the remaining twelve were used as blast relief shafts to vent steam from the locomotives that passed through.

Recent years

Despite its age, the tunnel has been continuously used for passenger and freight since it opened, with one exception: it closed for the first eight months of 1985 following a very serious Summit Tunnel fire. The build up of heat in the surrounding ground led to the phenomenon of a 'false spring'. Many plants were seen to be producing flowers and buds as the warm soil triggered a period of new growth. Large portions of the tunnel have been lined with concrete. The tunnel is track circuited with 'reed' type track circuits and was changed in September 2008 to 'AC Vane' type.


* Duncan, S. D. and Wilson, W., "Summit tunnel—post fire remedial works," 5th international symposium (Tunnelling '88), Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, 18–21 April 1988; ISBN 1-870706-01-3

Further reading

* MacDonald, M. The World From Rough Stones, Random House, 1975 (a novel set during the building of the Summit Tunnel).

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