Monday, July 09, 2007

Sustrans back Two Tunnels scheme on 30th Anniversary

On Friday 6th July 2007 the Sustrans 30th anniversary ride came through the Combe Down Tunnel. I decided to escort the riders through Combe Down, or rather about 70 metres below Firs Field, when they arrived at the Tucking Mill entrance on route from Wells to meet the Mayor of Bath and the Rector of Bath Abbey in the Abbey Churchyard. The photos show the Sustrans riders and me entering the tunnel (by kind permission of Bath Chronicle)

The Combe Down Tunnel, more than a mile long, is a fantastic feat of Victorian engineering, which until 1966 took the Somerset and Dorset Railway (S&D - Slow and Dirty or Slow and Delightful according to your view) from Bath Green Park to Bournemouth. I remember as a child the journey on the Pines Express going on holiday at the end of July, but until Friday I had not walked or cycled through the tunnel before.

The surface is difficult, but I did cycle for part of the way and I daresay that a mountain biker could cycle the whole length of the tunnel. The Tunnel is in surprisingly good condition and the soot from the bygone days of steam is still on the tunnel lining. It is the longest unventilated tunnel on the UK Railway system and it was an ordeal for drivers and firemen alike. They used to hold a wet cloth over their mouths and noses as they passed through the tunnel because of the fumes.

In 1929 a goods train of 32 wagons loaded with coal, ran away down the incline from the west end of the Combe Down Tunnel into Green Park, where is was derailed at points, in the goods yard of the station. Witnesses said that they could not see anyone on the footplate and it transpired that both driver and fireman were lying there unconscious, having been overcome by fumes inside Combe Down Tunnel. Evidence given by fireman Pearce and guard Wagner, was that the tunnel was exceptionally hot and smoky and that after a short time in the Tunnel Pearce had to wrap a coat round his head and sit down - he remembered no more! The driver J H Jennings died from his injuries and both Pearce and Wagner were seriously injured. I noticed this account in the Avon Valley Railway's magazine - Semaphore.
The Two Tunnels project is to open the Combe Down Tunnel and the Devonshire Tunnel to provide a picuresque route with just a slight incline into and out of the City - see my post of 10th June.
Quite a cycling weekend really - off to see the start of the Tour de France in London Saturday.


Anonymous Greenfield said...

I'm sure this will be a great asset to Bath & beyond - I look forward to using it when its opened.

9:48 pm


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