This presentation shows how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century civil engineers conquered the challenges of forging routes for freight and passengers across the “backbone of England”.
The contrasts between the three Transpennine waterways are instructive. The lengthy Leeds & Liverpool Canal is in the Brindley tradition, hugging contours as much as possible, using locks to ascend valley sides, and tunnelling between valley systems only when necessary. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal climbs steeply to the three-mile long Standedge Tunnel at its summit. The Rochdale Canal, initially surveyed with a summit tunnel but ultimately built entirely above ground, required considerable lockage and consequently was always short of water.
In the 1840s railways were built parallel to the Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale Canals, and twenty years later the Settle & Carlisle Railway was promoted as a tool in railway politics, challenging and geographically unnecessary, a memorable and heroic example of railway construction and operation.
All three canals and all three main-line railways remain in use for present and future generations to appreciate and enjoy, despite official efforts to kill some of them off in the post-war period.
For background information on this topic please click here.