Balfour Beatty experts deliver critical milestone to support reopening of the Rhondda Tunnel in South Wales
31 May 2018
A team of tunnel examination experts from Balfour Beatty’s rail business have initiated works on the examination, repair specification and report into the condition and safety of the Rhondda Tunnel in South Wales on behalf of the Rhondda Tunnel Society, reaching a critical milestone in re-opening the tunnel for leisure use.
Currently owned by Highways England (Historic Railway Estate), the tunnel which has been sealed shut since 1980 cannot be considered for re-opening until ownership is transferred to a Welsh Government body which requires an understanding of the tunnel’s condition and maintenance liabilities to justify a change in ownership. The examination, repair recommendations and report from Balfour Beatty will be critical to a successful transfer of ownership.
Work included replacing the cap on the sealed air shaft with a hatch to allow Balfour Beatty experts to be lowered daily through a 20m air shaft before the examination could be carried out. The examination lasted six days and consisted of a tactile inspection of almost two miles of the tunnel’s sidewalls, haunches and crown using mobile access towers and long tapping poles to verify the condition of the structure throughout. The examination also addressed potential methods for the rectification of any defects to build a full understanding of the works required to the make the tunnel suitable for re-opening.
Commenting on the examination works, Richard Storey Examining Engineer, Balfour Beatty’s rail business said, “The examination is particularly challenging for the Balfour Beatty team as the tunnel has been sealed since 1980; and, aside from some flooded areas and historic defects, which lead to its original closure, its condition was largely unknown. Heavy water ingress in certain areas also proved particularly challenging. However, it is a privilege to work alongside the committed and enthusiastic volunteers from the Rhondda Tunnel Society.”
Tony Moon, Rhondda Tunnel Society Project Secretary, said, “Balfour Beatty has been working in harmony with volunteers from the Rhondda Tunnel Society and we are thrilled as the examination work marks a significant step in the tunnel’s reopening. We are looking forward to the completed report that will help convince the Welsh Government that this Victorian masterpiece can be restored to become a major attraction to cyclists and walkers.”
Once successfully re-opened, the tunnel will become Europe’s longest cycling and walking path at 3.142km long.
The project will also feature in on both the ITV Wales ‘Coast & Country’ and the BBC Wales ‘Hidden Wales’ series both planned for broadcast later this Autumn.
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Notes to editors:
- Balfour Beatty (balfourbeatty.com) is a leading international infrastructure group. With 28,000 employees, we provide innovative and efficient infrastructure that underpins our daily lives, supports communities and enables economic growth. We finance, develop, build and maintain complex infrastructure such as transportation, power and utility systems, social and commercial buildings.
- Our main geographies are the UK & Ireland, US and Far East. Over the last 100 years we have created iconic buildings and infrastructure all over the world including the London Olympics’ Aquatic Centre, Hong Kong’s first Zero Carbon building, the world’s biggest shopping mall in Dubai, the National Museum of the Marine Corps in the US and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
- Balfour Beatty is one of the UK’s leading rail infrastructure suppliers. From feasibility studies, planning and design through to implementation and asset management, we provide multi-disciplinary rail infrastructure services across the lifecycle of rail assets. Our expertise covers electrification, track, power, civils, specialist rail plant, railway systems and technologies.
- Balfour Beatty also provides a comprehensive range of on-track machines for track geometry improvements and general track works. Our fleet of modern ‘Tampers’ consist of plain line machines and switches & crossing units. Along with our expert operators and support staff these machines ensure outstanding track quality for our customers.
- Balfour Beatty’s current portfolio of rail projects includes the £170 million Track Partnership for London Underground, the £220 million project for track re-modelling of London Bridge and Crossrail projects including the £130 million Abbey Wood station, the £110 million Whitechapel station and the £70 million station at Woolwich. Its most recent contract awards are for the supply, operation and maintenance of ‘On Track Machines’ or ‘Tampers worth £115 million for Network Rail; and, the operation and maintenance of Network Rail’s fleet of track maintenance machines, known as ‘Stoneblowers’ for more than £40 million; and, the five-year ‘Reactive Building and Civils Contract’ by Network Rail worth up to £50 million over a five-year period for the reactive aspect of the contract.
- Balfour Beatty’s Rail Innovation Hub in Derby employs a team of the industry’s leading technical experts and engineers dedicated to research, develop and test the latest, ground-breaking technologies and working practices in the UK and overseas. These include High Speed Measurement Systems and Automated Inspection and Monitoring Systems which enable track maintenance to be done on passenger trains at high speed, allowing early fault detection and significantly reducing costs.
- Omnicom Balfour Beatty provides a complete range of infrastructure monitoring solutions; these range from trackside, dedicated monitoring trains, RRVs, to the state of the art in service train solutions. Omnicom Balfour Beatty’s software solutions complement our hardware products and are compatible with other third-party systems and provide infrastructure owners, maintainers and operators with information to help create informed decisions in real-time or for long terms strategic planning.
The Rhondda Tunnel
- Engineered by S W Yockney, the tunnel was opened in 1890 to enable coal from the Rhondda to be exported via the ports of Swansea Bay (Port Talbot, Neath, Briton Ferry and Swansea). An uphill gradient of 1 in 50 outside Treherbert (Rhondda side) made it expensive to export coal via this route so most continued to be exported downhill to Cardiff and latterly to Barry. In the 1930s steel arches were erected in sections of the tunnel to support planks of wood to prevent any loose masonry from falling. In 1968 hinging was noticed where the tunnel passes through a fault, as a result the tunnel was shut and by 1980, the approach cuttings at both ends had been filled in.
- In 2014, Steve Mackey Chairman of the Rhondda Tunnel Society (RTS) found the headstone for the tunnel buried in a thicket of brambles some miles down the valley. It was repaired and placed on public view at Treherbert Station. Such was the clamour at its unveiling that the Rhondda Tunnel Society was formed with a view to re-opening the tunnel to become Europe’s longest cycling / walking path at 3.142km.
- In 2016, a technical subcommittee was formed of retired engineers, mainly civil and mining. Their expertise combined with the enthusiasm of the local community and trustees enabled the RTS to put in a successful bid for funding in 2017 from the Pen Y Cymoedd Wind Farm Community Fund and it was awarded just over £90k to do the detailed examination that the Welsh Govt. needs.
- The tunnel is owned by Highways England (Historic Railway Estate). They manage lots of abandoned railway structures to ensure that they remain safe. They are not allowed to re-open it. It therefore needs to be passed to a Welsh Govt. body (either the Welsh Govt. itself or the two local authorities). The Welsh Govt. will not accept this change of ownership without understanding the liabilities. It has asked for a report into the tunnel’s condition and a business case to justify transferring ownership.