Humans are resilient and intelligent creatures, as you can see from many feats of railway engineering. The Channel Tunnel, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Snowdon Mountain Railway and Totley Tunnel.
If you’ve ever travelled by train from Sheffield to Manchester, you have the limestone and gritstone wedges of inhospitable terrain as barriers. The Dark Peak, to the north, is generally gritstone, whilst the White Peak of Derbyshire and Staffordshire is predominantly limestone.
Gritstone dominates the space between Manchester and Sheffield and it even has its own titular long distance walk called the Gritstone Edges, starting from Bamford. The rock itself is incredibly hard and weather resistant and needs specialist equipment to make use of its many qualities.
The Totley Tunnel is the second longest rail tunnel in Britain, taking 5 years to plan, design and build before its formal opening on the Hope Valley line in 1888. It really is a miracle of Victorian engineering - let’s explain why.
That gritstone rock wasn’t easy to drill into. They didn’t have the giant mechanical HS2 boring machines of today - instead they used explosives, gelignite, an inexact science. Water was encountered in the form of underground springs. Not feeble amounts either - 118 litres per second which meant drains had to be installed.
Its workforce suffered too - from typhoid, diphtheria, smallpox etc - caused by 24 hour working conditions in this damp tunnel, exacerbated by limited washing and sanitary facilities as 20 to 30 men shared a small house.
There’s other factors too that caused problems - heat and humidity in summer and poor ventilation until a turbine fan and air shafts were created - one still visible today from the Sheffield leg.
There’s no doubt that this was an incredible achievement in its day.We wonder too how Raildiary could have helped if a similar project was undertaken now.
In this age of cost accountability, there would be clearly a need for fiscal measurement to ensure budgets were adhered to where possible. The 160 tons of gelignite used to blow a way through the almost 4 mile length would not have been cheap in 1888, nor would a HS2 Boring Machine which you can see here
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And the next time you travel on a train, take note of what our forbearers achieved and how this is being emulated today with projects like HS2.