HomeInfrastructureTunnel operation takes flight with help from a helicopter

Tunnel operation takes flight with help from a helicopter


Essential work on a tunnel in the Peak District got some help from high places.

Helicopters helped airlift construction materials into position as part of an £800,000 package of work being carried out on the Cowburn tunnel on the Hope Valley line.

Running between Edale and Chinley, the tunnel goes underneath key peaks near Kinder Scout and Mam Tor in the Peak District National Park.

Due to the location being so remote, helicopter pilots were drafted in to transport vital materials and components for work on the tunnel’s ventilation shaft.

Cowburn tunnel’s ventilation shaft is in a remote location in the Peak District.

Dug vertically 241 metres into the hillside, it’s one of the deepest railway ventilation shafts in the country – and would be taller than Canary Wharf if it was a building.

But, for nearly 130 years, as well as providing air to the tunnel more than 250 metres below, the ventilation shaft has also inadvertently acted as a huge drainpipe.

Rain that fell on the land above seeped through the soil before making its way through the ventilation shaft’s brickwork, cascading onto the tunnel and tracks below.

To combat this, Network Rail’s engineers have installed a system of drainage pipes that will collect the water in a controlled manner and divert it to drains inside the tunnel. This will protect brickwork and prevent risk of any delays.

Network Rail works delivery manager Dennis McGonnell said: “It’s a huge privilege to keep heritage structures like Cowburn tunnel in good condition for rail passengers and freight and it’s amazing to see up close the quality of the Victorians’ workmanship.

“We work on a lot of structures in remote locations, but working in a tunnel this deep and using helicopters to get materials to site is rare. It makes you realise what an amazing feat of engineering building this tunnel and ventilation shaft was all that time ago, without the modern machinery we have today!”

Engineers descend in a purpose-built cradle.

In order to install this new solution, engineers constructed a temporary lift platform to work from, which used winches and pulleys.

In a scene reminiscent of work carried out in Victorian times, Network Rail’s teams were lowered into the ventilation shaft in a custom-built cradle. This meant trains could continue to run on the track below undisrupted. Meanwhile, track-level drainage work took place on Saturday nights, when no trains were running.


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