Welsh fairy tale

20 September 2018

Fairy tales: we all remember our favourites. Steve Mackey, chair of the Rhondda Tunnel Society may well be living his own.

When Steve Mackey was about 13 years old, a couple of his friends dangled him by a rope over the portal of a disused railway tunnel by his ankles, 14m above the track bed. This was not to scare the living daylights out of him but was so he could re-paint the commemorative portal stone. When he did so, he added the words “please open me” and his signature to the side of the stone.

That was in the late 1960s. Fast forward to a country walk in 2014 when in a bizarre twist of fate Mackey stumbled across the portal stone, covered in brambles, lost and all but forgotten. Within a few days he had organised its removal and restoration at a local stonemason and the stone is now on display at a nearby train station.

This sowed the seeds of the Rhondda Tunnel Society (RTS) and its campaign to restore and reopen the 3.18km Rhondda Tunnel as a cycle path and walking route (for more about the tunnel and society, read the feature in Tunnels and Tunnelling International, January 2017).

Now, in 2018, following a tunnel examination by Balfour Beatty, Mackey’s fairy tale may come true. Local government has agreed to formally lend its backing to the opening of the Rhondda Tunnel.

Most recently owned by Highways England (Historic Railway Estate), the tunnel which has been sealed shut since 1980 could not be considered for reopening until ownership was 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 are be critical.

Council Leader, County Borough Councillor Andrew Morgan said, “The Rhondda Tunnel project is a scheme which carries huge public support and affection, thanks in the main to the enthusiasm and drive that the many volunteers involved place behind the plans. “I am personally committed to making this happen, and so too is the wider Council… A project like this is incredibly unique, but we also have an opportunity alongside the Rhondda Tunnel to consider plans to re-open the former Abernant Tunnel between Aberdare and Merthyr, which could also deliver major economic benefi ts.

“If these two projects could be delivered side-byside, Rhondda Cynon Taf would offer one of the most attractive and impressive Active Travel destinations in Europe, and probably a world fi rst.”