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Disused rail tunnel gets green light to become Europe’s longest underground cycle lane

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 30/12/2021 Will Bolton
The Rhondda railway tunnel prior to being drained in 2018 - Rhondda Tunnel Society © Rhondda Tunnel Society The Rhondda railway tunnel prior to being drained in 2018 - Rhondda Tunnel Society

A disused Victorian rail line is set to become Europe’s longest underground cycle path after the Government cleared the way for its opening.

The two-mile long tunnel links the Rhondda and Afan valleys in Wales, but was shut down together with dozens of other lines and hundreds of stations in the Sixties.

Earlier this year, the Government announced that it would halt the destruction of former railway lines and bridges in the hope that they can be repurposed to get more people walking and cycling.

Despite being located deep in south Wales, the tunnel is actually owned and controlled by Highways England.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has now said he will hand over control to Welsh ownership so that the cycle lane project can continue.

Mr Shapps said: “I would be happy to transfer it to a local group, the Welsh Government or the local council, with money for the purpose.”

The Rhondda Tunnel in its heyday, before being shut in the Sixties - Forgotten Relics © Provided by The Telegraph The Rhondda Tunnel in its heyday, before being shut in the Sixties - Forgotten Relics The original stone for the Rhondda railway tunnel - Forgotten Relics © Provided by The Telegraph The original stone for the Rhondda railway tunnel - Forgotten Relics

Campaigners are hoping to reopen the 3,443yd route and make it the longest underground cycle path in Europe.


Video: Northern Rail to go into public ownership (Sky News)

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The Rhondda Tunnel Society was established in 2014 and has more than 850 members, with Michael Sheen, the Welsh actor, among those backing the project.

The tunnel used to carry coal trains 1,000ft below the mountains from the mines of Rhondda to the ports of Swansea Bay, until its closure in 1968 and the entrances to the tunnel at both ends have long been buried.

It was first opened in 1890 during the coal boom after a five-year building project overseen by the tunnel’s chief engineer Sydney William Yockney, a pupil of Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

It would be the longest cycle tunnel in Europe, and second only to the 2.5 mile-long Snoqualmie Tunnel near Seattle in the US.

Engineers at work turning the Rhondda Tunnel ahead of its transformation to a bicycle lane - Forgotten Relics © Provided by The Telegraph Engineers at work turning the Rhondda Tunnel ahead of its transformation to a bicycle lane - Forgotten Relics

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, said: “If we are able to reopen it as a cycle path, as many people hope, it would be the longest cycle path in Europe.

“It would be a major local attraction, which would be good for tourism and jobs in an area of outstanding beauty that unfortunately has terrible financial deprivation.”

Highways England has previously caused outrage by filling in Victorian railway bridges with concrete rather than repairing and maintaining them.

In the summer, a 159-year-old bridge in Great Musgrave, Cumbria, had its arch filled with concrete, angering engineers and restoration experts, who said it could have been saved with just £5,000 of repairs.

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