Summit Tunnel

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Northern Rail Class 158 emerges from Summit Tunnel southern portal near Littleborough

The Summit Tunnel in England is one of the oldest railway tunnels in the world: being built between 1838 and 1841 by the Manchester and Leeds Railway beneath the Pennines. The tunnel is located between Littleborough and Walsden, Todmorden creating a vital route between the cities of Leeds and Manchester.


The tunnel is just over 1.6 miles (2.6 km) long and carries two standard-gauge tracks in a single tube, which is shaped like a horseshoe approximately 7.2m (23.6 feet) wide and 6.6m (21.6 feet) high.

The tunnel was mined by hand through shale, coal and sandstone, then lined with six courses of bricks (using over 23 million bricks in all)[1] to form the horseshoe shape. It was aligned by drilling fourteen vertical shafts to provide survey points on the hillside above: after the tunnel was completed two shafts were closed and the remaining twelve were used as blast relief shafts to vent steam from the locomotives that passed through.

When completed in 1841, it was the longest railway tunnel in the world.

Recent years[edit]

Despite its age, the tunnel has been continuously used for passengers and goods since it opened. The tunnel is track circuited with Ebi Track 400 system track circuits.


The tunnel closed for the first eight months of 1985 following a very serious fire in 1984. The buildup of heat in the surrounding ground led to the phenomenon of a 'false spring'. Many plants were seen to be producing flowers and buds as the warm soil triggered a period of new growth. Large portions of the tunnel have been lined with concrete.

On 28 December 2010, a passenger train travelling from Manchester to Leeds was derailed when it struck a large amount of ice that had fallen onto the tracks from one of the ventilation shafts. This ice had built up in the shafts during a period of exceptionally cold weather, and then fell into the tunnel when warmer weather started to thaw the ice. The train was the first to use the tunnel in three days (following the Christmas shut down). The train collided with the tunnel wall, but remained upright, and no injuries were reported.[2]


  • Duncan, S. D. and Wilson, W., Summit tunnel—post fire remedial works, 5th international symposium (Tunnelling '88), Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, 18–21 April 1988; ISBN 1-870706-01-3

Further reading[edit]

  • MacDonald, M. The World From Rough Stones (1975, Random House); a novel set during the building of the Summit Tunnel.

External links[edit]

Media related to Summit Tunnel, England at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 53°41′02″N 2°05′31″W / 53.68389°N 2.09194°W / 53.68389; -2.09194