Engineering required to build trans-Pennine rail tunnel would be a ‘national first’ says report

More details of a proposed trans-Pennine rail and road tunnel designed to link Manchester with Sheffield, and to transport passengers underneath some of the country’s most revered landscapes has been published. Highways England recently published its latest report on the proposed tunnel, which, if it goes ahead, would be the first major cross-Pennines link to be built since the M62 in the 1970s.

The study says that connecting Manchester to Sheffield by going underground would tackle congestion and boost economic growth. It states that the engineering and delivery of such a project would be “a national first”. The report includes a short list of route options, between Manchester and Sheffield, which can be taken forward into the next stage of the study.

It says because an overground route would run through the heart of the Peak District National Park, a surface link has been ruled out. Going underground would also help combat the adverse weather conditions that hit the region in the winter, often closing the Snake Pass and Woodhead Pass roads that cross the Pennines. A solution that combines a road corridor with a heavy-rail or light-rail service following a similar route is being considered.

It is unclear how long the tunnel would be although Manchester is 35 miles from Sheffield as the crow flies. Well-known examples of long train tunnels include the Channel Tunnel (31 miles), completed in 1994, and Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland (35 miles), which opened this year. Lessons learned from these projects have been used to inform this latest study. The tunnel could be built using tunnel boring machines (TBMs) similar to those used on the Crossrail and Channel Tunnel projects.

The study says a tunnel could bring significant reductions in travel time of up to 30 minutes for both passenger and freight traffic between Manchester and Sheffield, with potential knock-on reductions for travel times on other parts of the network.