A tunnel disused since the 1960s could become the longest underground cycle path in Europe.
The three-kilometer-long Victorian tunnel was built in 1890, connecting the Rhondda and Afan valleys to transport coal to Swansea Bay. After being decommissioned since the 1960s, when it was closed along with other lines and stations, the tunnel is now on the way to regaining a new lease of life.
Activists want to reopen the tunnel to make it the longest underground cycle path in Europe.
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Despite its location in Wales, the tunnel is owned and controlled by National Highways, formerly Highways England, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said last month he would cede control to Welsh ownership to allow the project to take hold. to chase.
“I would be happy to transfer it to a local group, the Welsh government or the local council, with money for this purpose,” Mr Shapps said.
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However, a tweet from the Rhondda Tunnel Society, which is working to reopen the tunnel, read: “We still cannot go ahead and apply for the funding we need to complete this project until that the Welsh government [sic] where local authorities are able to appropriate central government [sic]. We will see what 2022 brings. Happy New Year. “
The Rhondda Tunnel Society was established in 2014 and counts actor Michael Sheen among its supporters.
Tony Moon, project secretary, said: “This [the tweet] is true with regard to the main links of the tunnel. About 90 percent of the tunnel is managed by national highways, but the end which belongs to the council of Neath Port Talbot is different and we are still exploring the possibility of going ahead with this end by obtaining a building permit from the council. by Neath Port Talbot.
“Obtaining a heritage lottery grant would depend on a change of ownership.”
The Rhondda Tunnel Society examined the Blaengwynfi side of the tunnel, where visitors who were taken to the site are currently descended into an air duct, Tony said.
He continued, “When you enter a tunnel you normally enter a deep trench and then it turns into a tunnel. They have been filled on both sides of the Rhondda tunnel so there is no sign of this void. go.
“We considered the possibility, instead of extracting all this material from the cut and having to deposit it elsewhere, of extending the tunnel with a short, sloping tunnel to the surface. It would actually be more than two miles long if that happened.
“We have sought to raise funds to do so as a private company, leveraging various funds.”
Tony added that the company is currently in talks with a company about the possibilities of extending the tunnel to do this.
“We are planning to do this independently of the government. The advantage of this is that the end of the tunnel belongs entirely to the Neath Port Talbot Council. Any plan to move forward would be independent of any bargaining between the Welsh government and Westminster.
“If we can make it happen, we just think the momentum we’re building will take it over the line.”
Tony told WalesOnline that about the ‘last hundred yards’ of the tunnel belonged to Neath Port Talbot City Council, with the rest owned by the London Department of Transport and managed by National Highways.
“As soon as we know what the costs and project details will be for this extension of Balengwynfi, we will launch a public fundraising. I really expect that in the next six months, if not before that.”
“The Rail Heritage Trust has given us £ 100,000 this year for work on Blaengwynfi.”
Andy Savage, executive director of the Railway Heritage Trust, confirmed that the money was awarded to the Rhondda Tunnel Society.
He was an engineer BR Ciovil in South Wales from 1979 to 1991, whose first post, as a regional engineer in Bridgend, included the Rhondda Valley.
Mr Savage eventually became a Divisional Civil Engineer for All of South Wales and described the Rhondda Tunnel as “an old friend” – while adding that it was only last month that he entered the tunnel.
“We are sponsoring work in at least three other tunnels, cycle lanes in at least three other tunnels, and I have a special commitment to this tunnel due to my involvement with the South Wales Railway and the Rhondda Railways. since 1979, “he said. noted.
“It is therefore a particular pleasure for me to be able to support this project. The others have all been successful and I sincerely hope that they will be the same.
Tony said the Rhondda Tunnel Society estimate of the cost of the reopening is £ 13.1million.
“The money to reopen it will come from a Heritage Lottery grant if we can get it. We can get up to £ 5million if we get it,” he said.
“Another source would be this dowry which Christ Bryant is negotiating from Westminster. The rest of the Welsh government and local authorities.
“It would pay to have it reopened roughly, sort of three or four different jars.”
He continued, “With all these different prize pools available, we should be able to get funding together.”
The tunnel was built by the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway in 1885. It was designed by Sydney William Yockney, son of Samuel Hansard Yockney, who worked for Isambard Kingdom Brunel on other tunnel projects.
Work on the tunnel began on both sides in 1885, at Blaencwm in Rhondda and Blaengwyfni in the Afan Valley, with tunnel boring machines facing dire conditions. Several injuries and deaths were caused by falling rocks and explosions.
It opened in 1890 and was used to transport coal trains to Swansea Bay until it closed in 1968, with the tunnel entrances at both ends having been buried.
The cycle tunnel is said to be the longest in Europe, just behind the Snoqualmie Tunnel near Seattle in the United States, which is 2.5 miles long.
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant said: “If we manage to reopen it as a cycle path, as many hope, it would be the longest cycle path in Europe.
“It would be a major local attraction, which would be good for tourism and employment in a region of exceptional beauty which unfortunately suffers from terrible financial hardship.”
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