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Richard T

Harecastle Tunnels

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Whilst visiting the Keighley and Worth Valley railway at the weekend I came across a book which I hadn't seen before or seen reviewed in the waterways press on the history of the canal and railway tunnels at Harecastle. Needless to say I bought it. Its excellent with good maps and properly captioned illustrations so would be a good buy for anyone who has an interest in canal and/or railway history. Details are here http://lightmoor.co.uk/view-book.php?ref=L8627&section=

Quote from the Lightmoor web site

This book traces the history of the two canal and three railway tunnels once owned by the North Staffordshire Railway (NSR) that have been driven through Harecastle Hill in North Staffordshire, together with coal and ironstone mining which took place in the vicinity of the tunnels. Once vital transport arteries, only one of the tunnels remains in use today – Telford’s canal tunnel opened in 1827, through which tugs powered by electricity once operated. James Brindley’s earlier pioneering tunnel opened in 1775 was closed in 1918. This was once the longest transport tunnel in the world. The three railway tunnels were opened in 1848 after the NSR had acquired the Trent & Mersey Canal; two of them known as ‘south’ and ‘middle’ were taken out of use in 1966 following the diversion of the railway around Harecastle Hill as part of British Railways’ West Coast Main Line electrification scheme, on the route from Colwich via Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Macclesfield to Manchester Piccadilly. The third ‘north’ tunnel was opened out as part of this scheme but a new railway tunnel had to be built just to the south of Kidsgrove; that and the railway diversion scheme are also dealt with in the book. The authors’ extensive research is presented here for the first time in this fascinating and well illustrated volume.

I'm going to enjoy reading it.

The trip on the railway was also worthwhile with 8 locos in steam. I managed to be hauled at some point in the day by all 7 of those rostered.

Edited by Richard T
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It was discussed on here in the past, and I don't think we ever arrived at a convincing answer, so I'm interested if your book gives one....

 

All pictures I have ever seen of the Harecastle electric tug, show a pole riding along just a single conductor for current collection.

 

To make a circuit needs a return path, but I believe it dragged itself along a chain, rather than a cable.

 

A chain couldn't be a reliable electrical path.

 

So how did it actually work?....

 

(And as an aside, at what voltage?  If it was anything dangerous, it would be far to close to people's heads inside that bore!....)

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1 hour ago, alan_fincher said:

A chain couldn't be a reliable electrical path.

But the water would be

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24 minutes ago, buccaneer66 said:

But the water would be

I don't think so, (even with all the orange stuff in the water that is a feature of that tunnel).

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26 minutes ago, buccaneer66 said:

But the water would be

Careful now, someone will suggest a RCD will trip on a steel Narrowboat under fault condition with no earth wire next 

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Pages 127 - 129 (Chapter 23 - Harecastle Tunnels) of L.T.C. Rolt's "Narrowboat" have a description of his passage behind the electric tug, and of ballasting Cressy down to give adequate clearance under the overhead power line. The description suggests a single conductor overhead and the motion achieved by a winch picking up a "second cable" laid in the bed of the canal, and paying it back out astern.  He also mentions "Vivid blue sparks" from the overhead conductor.

 

A photograph published in Canal Boating Times, November 2015, has a fairly clear image of the tug showing a single overhead pickup.

 

Another photograph published in "Narrowboats at Work", Michael E. Ware, 1980, shows , according to the caption, the Chatterly end of the tunnel and one of the original Battery powered tugs, the battery bank carried in a second boat towed behind the tug. 

 

On a slightly different note a pathe video https://www.britishpathe.com/video/electric-canals shows experiments with a two conductor overhead trolley on the Staffs & Worcester at Kidderminster.

 

springy

 

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21 hours ago, alan_fincher said:

(And as an aside, at what voltage?  If it was anything dangerous, it would be far to close to people's heads inside that bore!....)

Many years ago, the trams in Preston were open top deck.  Down Fylde Road they went under a low railway bridge.  The conductor used to have to go onto the top deck under this bridge to make sure no-one reached up to touch the wire.

 

None of your namby pamby health and safety in them days!

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The Seaton Tramway runs reduced scale trams, and from the top deck of the open toppers you can probably reach the overhead wire. Which is probably why it operates at 120V dc.

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On 09/03/2020 at 17:10, alan_fincher said:

It was discussed on here in the past, and I don't think we ever arrived at a convincing answer, so I'm interested if your book gives one....

 

All pictures I have ever seen of the Harecastle electric tug, show a pole riding along just a single conductor for current collection.

 

To make a circuit needs a return path, but I believe it dragged itself along a chain, rather than a cable.

 

A chain couldn't be a reliable electrical path.

 

So how did it actually work?....

 

(And as an aside, at what voltage?  If it was anything dangerous, it would be far to close to people's heads inside that bore!....)

Alan the book answers your questions as follows:-

The book has a whole chapter decicated to the tugs used to tow boats through the Telford tunnel. The decision to introduce tugs was taken in 1913 and they became operational in 1914. The tugs used 40ft long 7ft wide and had a draft of 3ft. They were equipped with two 15hp electric motors. A cable was laid on the bed of the canal and the tugs were attached to this. Behind each tug was an accumulator barge which was 72ft long. These had 115 alkali cells on them which have a nominal voltage of 1.2 giving a total of 138v DC. The charging station was at the Chatterley (south) end of the tunnel. Where a generating station was built on the land between the Brindley and Telford tunnels. This station was equipped with two 70bhp gas engines which drove dynamos which at 600rpm had an out put of 45 kilowatts. The accumulators took several days to charge so were changed weekly.
The tugs operated 18hours a day 6days a week making 6 trips in each direction towing an average of 17 boats.
The Brindley tunnel stopped being used in 1918.
A new tug was built in 1930 at a cost of £1359.
In 1931 the accumulator boats stopped being used and power was provided by an overhead wire. The return conductor was the haulage wire. The tugs were not changed they were simply converted to collect current from the overhead wires. The voltage therefore continued to be around 138v DC.
On 6th  January 1953 decision was approved for the introduction of a forced ventilation system and the use of tugs was discontinued in 1954.
The book contains a lot of photographs which I do not think have been published before showing the tugs in operation.
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1 hour ago, Richard T said:

Alan the book answers your questions as follows:-

The book has a whole chapter decicated to the tugs used to tow boats through the Telford tunnel. The decision to introduce tugs was taken in 1913 and they became operational in 1914. The tugs used 40ft long 7ft wide and had a draft of 3ft. They were equipped with two 15hp electric motors. A cable was laid on the bed of the canal and the tugs were attached to this. Behind each tug was an accumulator barge which was 72ft long. These had 115 alkali cells on them which have a nominal voltage of 1.2 giving a total of 138v DC. The charging station was at the Chatterley (south) end of the tunnel. Where a generating station was built on the land between the Brindley and Telford tunnels. This station was equipped with two 70bhp gas engines which drove dynamos which at 600rpm had an out put of 45 kilowatts. The accumulators took several days to charge so were changed weekly.
The tugs operated 18hours a day 6days a week making 6 trips in each direction towing an average of 17 boats.
The Brindley tunnel stopped being used in 1918.
A new tug was built in 1930 at a cost of £1359.
In 1931 the accumulator boats stopped being used and power was provided by an overhead wire. The return conductor was the haulage wire. The tugs were not changed they were simply converted to collect current from the overhead wires. The voltage therefore continued to be around 138v DC.
On 6th  January 1953 decision was approved for the introduction of a forced ventilation system and the use of tugs was discontinued in 1954.
The book contains a lot of photographs which I do not think have been published before showing the tugs in operation.

Excellent, and to a nerd like me fascinating.

I would have thought 138V DC within easy reaching distance was a major hazard, but health and safety, who cared back then! (My understanding is that DC is potentially a ot more dangerous than AC).

Haulage on a cable as the return conductor was the only way I could see it could work.  Sources that say it puled on a chain ould seem to be incorrect then, as I suspected they had to be.

It is interesting though that it says  that the accumulator boat stopped being used when the overhead wire went in, because plenty of pictures show the tugs with overhead pick up to a wire, but still towing the accumulator boats - I had always assumed they were retained so that they helped provide the power, whilst being topped up by the overhead supply.  Why were they still being pulled through if not?

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On 12/03/2020 at 14:21, alan_fincher said:


It is interesting though that it says  that the accumulator boat stopped being used when the overhead wire went in, because plenty of pictures show the tugs with overhead pick up to a wire, but still towing the accumulator boats - I had always assumed they were retained so that they helped provide the power, whilst being topped up by the overhead supply.  Why were they still being pulled through if not?

Alan,

A work boat was attached to the rear of the tug. This was loaded with weights. The authors suggest that the workboat was used to keep the stern of the tug deep in the water. This arrangement can be seen in the image below which is a photo of a page of the book - apologies for the quality of this its not easy to take pictures of shiny pages!!

There are many good photos in the book of the tunnel and various boats some of which are identifiable. There are also a couple of drawings showing the construction of the tugs.

IMG_4113.JPG

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Yes, but that is not what I was referring to as being dragged behind the electric tug, even afer the overhead wire was in use.

 

Sorry for small size of image, but the following is captioned as...

 

Quote

A tunnel tug and battery boat waiting at the Harecastle Tunnell, c.1930s. (Virtual Waterways Archive Catalogue)The tugs wereintroduced in 1914,following the closure of the Brindley tunnel, with the purpose of overcomingventilation difficulties in addition to accelerating traffic and so increasingcapacitythrough the tunnel(the tugscould travel at twice the speed of a horse). By the time of this photograph, battery power had been superseded by overhead cables through the tunnel anda tram-type pick-up on the tug.

 

So it seems there was a time when both the overhead pickup and the battery boat was part of the operation.  I certainly don't think it is a trading boat being towed - it doesn't look like a tar boat, being about the only possibility, given it is decked over.

tunnel tug.jpg

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3 hours ago, alan_fincher said:

Yes, but that is not what I was referring to as being dragged behind the electric tug, even afer the overhead wire was in use.

 

Sorry for small size of image, but the following is captioned as...

 

 

So it seems there was a time when both the overhead pickup and the battery boat was part of the operation.  I certainly don't think it is a trading boat being towed - it doesn't look like a tar boat, being about the only possibility, given it is decked over.

tunnel tug.jpg

Is that a large forecabin, or a horseboat/butty being towed backwards?

Or is it perhaps a decked boat used as a maintenance flat in the tunnel?

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16 hours ago, alan_fincher said:

Yes, but that is not what I was referring to as being dragged behind the electric tug, even afer the overhead wire was in use.

 

Sorry for small size of image, but the following is captioned as...

 

 

So it seems there was a time when both the overhead pickup and the battery boat was part of the operation.  I certainly don't think it is a trading boat being towed - it doesn't look like a tar boat, being about the only possibility, given it is decked over.

tunnel tug.jpg

I suspect that a boat was towed behind the tug in order to ensure that the cable sank into the centre of the channel after the tug had passed. Chain towage systems usually had a movable arm at the stern which was used to guide the chain into the centre of the channel after the tug passed, which was especially needed when the tug turned a corner. A work boat behind the Harecastle tug would also ensure that the cable did not become caught on a fully loaded boat immediately behind the tug.

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This book just arrived at my door at first glance it looks excellent i'll have good look through later when I've finished work.

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11 hours ago, buccaneer66 said:

This book just arrived at my door at first glance it looks excellent i'll have good look through later when I've finished work.

I can say that this an excellent publication full of interesting facts and photos and in hard back too. Good value @ £25.

Got my copy about 2 weeks ago and devoured it in 2 nights.........working my way sreadily through the rest of my canal book collection now

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I agree I particularly liked the photos inside Brindleys tunnel showing the genuine roof collapses and the obvious infill.

 

 

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 I have recently read the book.  The chapter on mining was very interesting. There seems to be good evidence that originally the Brindley tunnel was connected to at least  the Nelson pit on the west  and to the Goldenhill collieries  on  the east by additional tunnels.  It is not, to me any way, clear that these were canal tunnels.  Bill Jack, p178 talks of exploring one of these tunnels from Gilberts Hole  but talks of it being steep and twisting, and the group later walked out to Chatterley.  That does not indicate a side canal tunnel to me. 

Futher, since  the Telford tunnel was on the Goldenhill side its towpath would have effectively blocked any direct boat access to a side tunnel eastward.  Unless perhap the turnrail was a moveable section of towpath?  Bill Jacks though describes the Turnrail as being near Gilberts hole and  the point where the boats turned round.

 

My thought is that the side tunnels were probably ordinary mine passageways and coal was brought in tubs to the tunnels, loaded to boats and taken out.  There must surely have been some delay to traffic whilst this happened, but there is no mention of this in the book or in other writings about Harecastle.

Any thoughts?

 

N

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On 12/04/2020 at 14:46, BEngo said:

 

My thought is that the side tunnels were probably ordinary mine passageways and coal was brought in tubs to the tunnels, loaded to boats and taken out.  There must surely have been some delay to traffic whilst this happened, but there is no mention of this in the book or in other writings about Harecastle.

Any thoughts?

 

N

Have a read of this thread, near the bottom.

https://www.aditnow.co.uk/community/viewtopic.aspx?t=13028&pid=1

 

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This section of the tunnel comes from Telford's biography on the Institution of Civil Engineers Library website.

1833 Harecastle.jpg

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