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Shadows of the past behind tunnel project.

Byline: David Owens Reporter david.owens@walesonline.co.uk

HESE are the latest pictures from inside the Rhondda Tunnel.

TPlans to reopen the Victorian tunnel, that runs between Blaencwm in the Rhondda and Blaengwynfi in the Afan Valley, recently received a huge boost with the award of a five-figure grant.

The Rhondda Tunnel Society, which is campaigning to have the historic Victorian tunnel reopened as a walking and cycle route, is to receive the grant of more than PS90,000 from the Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm Community Fund to pay for a detailed examination of the abandoned 3,443-yard (3,148m) tunnel.

Ahead of the full survey, several teams entered the tunnel to gather information in preparation for the detailed examination early next year.

"The project is now moving into a new phase with all concerned very excited indeed," said Rhondda Tunnel Society chairman Stephen Mackey. "The funds will pay for three surveys.

"The main survey will see a team of skilled tunnelling engineers carry out a thorough inspection to find every defect and estimate a cost to remedy them.

"The Rhondda Tunnel Society's technical subcommittee drew up a specification for this, received tenders and is recommending Balfour Beatty's team to do the work."

He added: "There will also be a geotechnical survey of the material that was used to bury the approach cuttings at both ends of the tunnel at Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi.

"The third survey is to examine the land earmarked to receive the excavated spoil, which will be used to create level well-drained ground suitable for visitors' centres, car parks and camping and caravanning sites at both ends of the tunnel.

"The tunnel will undoubtedly be a major tourist attraction and will need space to host large events of all kinds.

"The report and costings for the whole project will be a key step in persuading a Welsh Government body to take ownership.

"This will enable the Rhondda Tunnel Society to secure the resources to restore it."

One of the pictures from the recent exploration is a group shot which resonates with ghosts of the past.

"The group photo has eerie shadows behind the group," said Mr Mackey. "This is not photoshopped. It has been said that it is the workers that dug the tunnel in the 1880s approving the attempt to reopen it. It's a great analogy."

The Rhondda Tunnel, which has a number of high profile supporters including Hollywood star Michael Sheen, is currently owned by Highways England, who have said they are willing to hand it over to either the Welsh Government or the two local authorities - Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taf.

"Michael Sheen who is a great supporter of the project retweeted the group picture, which shows the interest is worldwide," said Mr Mackey. "As we move into the new year we hope that all our aspirations will be realised and the report will come back with a clean bill of health for the Rhondda Tunnel, which in turn will persuade the Welsh Government to take ownership from Highways England, which will allow the society to apply for serious grants."

The Rhondda Tunnel Society's goal is to reopen it as a walking and cycling route, the longest such tunnel in Europe and the second-longest in the world at just under two miles long.

"The Rhondda Tunnel is very special, partly because of its great length, but more importantly because of the huge support that there is to reopen it from both communities," said Mr Mackey.

CAPTION(S):

Carrying out checks inside the Rhondda Tunnel

<B This picture of the Rhondda Tunnel Society team inside Rhondda Tunnel, also shows 'eerie shadows behind the group', according to society chairman Steve Mackey. Pictured are, from left: Graeme Bickerdike (Queensbury Tunnel Project and journalist) Richard Storey (Balfour Beatty) William Teague (Mines Recue) Tony Moon (Rhondda Tunnel Project Secretary) Steve Jones (Rhondda Tunnel Society engineer (retired) Lee Jones (Mines Rescue) Jim Maggs (Rhondda Tunnel Society vice chairman) Steve Mackey (Rhondda Tunnel Society chairman) Graeme Bickerdike

Jim Mackey
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 5, 2017
Words:672
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