Saturday, 29 August 2015

Network Rail's solution to collapsing roof beams in Standedge Tunnel: chuck them in the water

One of the boats involved in the tunnel drama of three days ago caught up with us today; the crew have provided some very interesting update information.

David and Karen on NB Shadow (not our former shared ownership boat) passed us as we were watering up at Marple this morning; we followed and stopped when they did a couple of miles down the Macclesfield Canal. This is what they told us.

NB Cornwall, a Shire Cruisers hire boat, entered Standedge Tunnel about 45 minutes after us and had an uneventful passage until a rendezvous point about half way in. Here they were told to wait, the message from our CRT chaperone having been relayed to the "shadow" team in the adjacent disused railway tunnel. Meanwhile Shadow had entered the canal tunnel and had reached the first rendezvous point adit (a connecting passage between tunnels). Here they too were asked to wait while CRT decided what to do. Twenty minutes later they were instructed to reverse out. Their chaperone remained on the back of their (cruiser stern) boat, David put it into astern and fended off the walls either side with his hands. The only rearward-facing light was the chaperone's miner's lamp; no-one was at the bow. David says that his unconventional exit was actually smoother than his entrance, with the boat taking fewer knocks!

Once Shadow was out the electric tug boat was sent in to get Cornwall. The crew were transferred through the adit to the CRT Landrover and driven out. When Cornwall eventually emerged backwards behind the tug it was rather battered.

Now both boats and their crews were safely out. In the evening Network Rail went in to sort out their walkway which connects the live railway tunnel with a disused one. As the canal tunnel is at a lower level than the railway tunnels the walkway floor forms part of the roof of the canal tunnel as it crosses over. It was the timber beams of this walkway which had been tilting down into the canal tunnel. Work went on during the night; in the morning Network Rail e-mailed CRT to say that all the dangerous timbers had been removed, "but we may have dropped one in." CRT then gave the go-ahead for Cornwall and Shadow to pass through the tunnel. All went well until Cornwall came to a sudden stop. It had found the wooden beam - it was wedged between the boat and the tunnel wall.

But that's not the end of the story. There wasn't just one timber in the water. It appears that Network Rail's solution to the question of what to do with the dangling beams was simply to push them all into the canal. With Cornwall's timber freed they continued, and found more floating in the water. Shadow coming along behind also found floating timbers. These were hauled out using ropes; CRT people in the adjoining tunnel raked some out as well. In all six timber beams were found and removed.

The above is what David on Shadow told me today.

These were substantial timbers. I saw them - I estimate their cross section as 6" x 4". All this raises two important issues. First, what on earth did Network Rail think they were doing, just chucking their defective stuff into the canal? Apart from the timbers what other rubbish might now be under the surface of the water? Second, if safety was CRT's primary concern, why did they not send in an inspection boat before allowing members of the public through the tunnel?

We had been chatting to David and Karen on the towpath; now they needed to crack on as they had lost a lot of time through many hold-ups on their cruise, Standedge Tunnel being just the latest one. We waved them good bye.

It would be interesting to hear the hire boaters' story but I'm unlikely to bump into them now.

In order to stop to talk to David and Karen we breasted up to Spring Water; after Shadow had gone we invited Andy and Sue on board Jubilee for lunch. It was great seeing you again, especially as you weren't in when we passed Spring Water in Wigan (that seems a long time ago!)

We stopped for the night in Macclesfield. All the space on the linear pontoon moorings was taken (although there would be room for another boat if people were to shuffle up); as we were going past slowly a man on the first moored boat invited us to breast up to him, which we did, very gratefully.

After tea we walked into the town and witnessed the same sunset that others seem to have seen all over the country.

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