Waterway enthusiasts hope to see more boats use Britain’s longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in 2015.
Officials at Huddersfield Canal Society want to see more boaters take on the challenge – and spectacle – of the 200-year-old Standedge Tunnel at Marsden.
For the last four seasons, boaters have been able to navigate the 3.25-mile length of the trans-Pennine tunnel – but there are concerns that not enough people are booking trips.
The tunnel is open on only three days a week during the Easter to November season – with only three slots available each day.
That means just nine passages a week, which are rarely fully booked, and society officials want to find out why more boats aren’t taking to the historic waterway.
Mr Alan Stopher, chairman of Huddersfield Canal Society, said safety requirements meant that the tunnel had to be staffed by the Canal and River Trust when passenger boats were in the tunnel, and a member of staff or a volunteer was on board every boat.
The climb on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from Aspley to Marsden has 42 locks and there are another 32 from Marsden to Ashton-under-Lyne on the other side of the Pennines.
The climb is known as the ‘Everest of the Canals.’
Society officials don’t believe committed boaters are put off by the number of locks but fear they might be by the restricted number of opportunities to venture through the tunnel.
Mr Stopher, of Birkby, said the safety requirements and boat ‘chaperones’ were both very much needed as navigation of the tunnel demanded “an hour and three-quarters of intense concentration.”
There was no charge for boat passage so cost was not a factor.
Mr Stopher added: “People like to see moving boats and in other respects – walking, cycling and the environment – the canal is very successful.
“There are times during the summer season when the tunnel is fully booked but we need to find out why it is not more busy.
“A survey is being carried out among those making bookings to find out how easy it was to book and if they got the slot they wanted.
“We want to find out if there’s a pent up demand not being filled and if there’s justification for putting on more passages during the week. It’s a chicken and egg situation and a difficult one to investigate.”
The tunnel, part of it blasted through solid rock, was opened in April 1811 and revolutionised the transport of goods and helped fuel industrial expansion.
In the 1960s the tunnel was closed after parts of the roof collapsed. It was restored at a cost of £5 million and re-opened to boats in 2001.
Mr Stopher added: “The casual observer may ask why all that money was spent if not many boats are using it but this is about more than boats.
“It is about regeneration and creating an environment for people to enjoy the canal and towpaths.”
Mr Stopher said he understood two more volunteer chaperones had come forward which may help increase the number of passages in 2015.