Thursday, 18 February 2016

A sunny train trip though the Peak District

Edale station in the Hope Valley, Derbyshire

A perk of being a volunteer passenger-counter with the Mid Cheshire Rail Users Association is a Northern Rail pass valid on any of that company's trains. It was cold but sunny today so I decided to travel one of the most scenic railway lines in the UK - the Hope Valley line through the Derbyshire Peak District.

 The Hope Valley Line enters the map at its left hand edge at Marple and leaves it at Dore on the right hand edge. In between is the magnificent scenery of the Derbyshire Peak District on the boundary between the White and the Dark Peaks.

 My journey began at Alderley Edge station this morning where I boarded a class 323 electric multiple unit train for Manchester Piccadilly. Alderley is on the Manchester to Crewe line which is usually a busy artery for Virgin's Pendolinos between Manchester and London, Arriva Wales services to South Wales, freight trains out of Trafford Park Container Terminal, and other services as well as the local stopping 323 units. Since Saturday, and until 24th of this month, no trains are operating south of Alderley because of essential engineering work on the Dane viaduct at Twemlow near Holmes Chapel.

A Northern Rail Sprinter unit in the Hope Valley, similar to the train I travelled on today

I had a short wait at Piccadilly before leaving on the Northern Rail stopping service to Sheffield via the Hope Valley. There used be an electrified main line between the two cities, the Woodhead Route. Electrified in 1955 at the then standard 1,500 volts DC system. Instead of converting it to the modern 25Kv AC system British Railways closed the line to passengers in 1970, and completely in 1981. Has any other country closed an electrified main line between two major cities? It certainly wouldn't happen on today's privatised railway, and yet some people call for rail re-nationalisation!

The remaining rail route between Manchester and Sheffield is the scenic Hope Valley line. It's not electrified, still has semaphore signalling, but is a busy and vital rail artery for passengers and freight. Most passenger services are 'fast' between Stockport and Sheffield; this is, they do not stop at any of the intermediate stations. East Midlands trains runs its service from Liverpool to Norwich via Manchester along the Hope Valley, hourly in each direction, and there are several Trans Pennine Express services from Manchester and Manchester Airport using the line each hour as well. There is also a lot of freight traffic, including stone trains originating at the quarries at Peak Forest and Buxton, and cement trains from Hope cement works.

The fast passenger trains from Manchester route to Stockport, then take the Buxton line as far as Hazel Grove where a chord opened in 1986 allows access to the Hope valley Line. The 'Northern Rail' train I used today is a 'stopper' in that it calls at almost all the stations on its route. Its route from Manchester is via Reddish North and Marple, joining the Hope Valley Line between New Mills and Chinley. Fast trains do the journey between the two cities in about 50 minutes. My train today took about 1 hour 20 minutes.

There are two particularly long tunnels on the line (Cowburn at 3,385m, and Totley which at 5.7 km is the second longest in UK after the Severn Tunnel, excepting the Channel Tunnel) and several shorter ones. The Northern Rail Sprinter DMU calls at 13 stations en route so it's a leisurely trip, but that allows more time to admire the scenery.

The first few miles as far as Romiley are urban, but from New Mills onwards we can enjoy views of the Debyshire Peak District. We enter Cowburn Tunnel in pleasant hilly coutryside and exit it in the true heart of the Peak in Edale. Even more marked, at the other end of the line, we enter Totley Tunnel at Grindleford in Peak country and exit at Dore in the outer suburbs of Sheffield.

In between is some of the finest scenery visible from a train in UK. The Hope Valley is on the border between the gritstones of the Dark Peak to the north and the limestones of the White Peak to the south and combines superb views of both.

Chinley Churn, Win Hill, Rushup Edge, Mam Tor, Bamford Edge are among the many hills, ridges, and Edges I have visited on strenuous walks around this area with Stockport Walkers. Today I enjoyed them from the comfort of the train.

Edale in the Hope Valley. The hill in the centre is Mam Tor, and the railway line runs along the valley floor, curving around the foot of Mam Tor towards Hope. Cowburn Tunnel where the railway enters this magnificent landscape is off the picture to the right.


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