The statement below about the ownership of the tunnel has been agreed with the Highways Agency Historical Railways Estate and explains the current ownership situation.
Ownership of the Rhondda Tunnel
In the second half of the last century, many railway lines were closed leaving a large number of bridges and tunnels unused but still presenting a risk to the public if they were not kept safe. A QUANGO (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation) called BRB (Residuary) Ltd. was set up to manage these structures. Most are in England but some bridges, tunnels and viaducts are in South Wales, including the Rhondda and Abernant/Merthyr tunnels.
After the 2010 general election, one of the incoming coalition government’s policies was to have a “bonfire of the QUANGOs” as there were cost savings to be had out of reorganising them. BRB (Residuary) Ltd. was abolished in 2013 and its functions were split between London and Continental Railways and the Department for Transport (DfT) which is a Westminster Government department, whose minister is the Secretary of State for Transport (SoS). The Highways Agency took over the management of structures on behalf of the DfT but not the ownership.
In 2015 the Highways Agency was restructured into an arms-length government-owned company called Highways England. The Historical Railways Estate (HEHRE) team is a specialised group within Highways England and is based in York; it continues to carry out the management of disused railway structures owned by the SoS. The current agreement between Highways England and DfT with regard to historic railway structures ends on 31st. March 2020.
Therefore the tunnel is currently owned by the SoS. There is a clear separation between HEHRE and the SoS. Any decision regarding transfer of ownership comes from ministers or civil servants working on behalf of the SoS (i.e. the Westminster Govt). Many of the structures have been handed on to Sustrans who have re-used them to become some of the best features of the National Cycle Network such as the Hengoed Viaduct and the Bath Tunnels.
HEHRE has always been helpful and supportive of the Rhondda Tunnel Society’s campaign, but it is clearly not within its remit to make any change of ownership. While the tunnel is owned by the SoS the Rhondda Tunnel Society cannot tick a box in grant applications which asks if the owner consents to the tunnel being re-opened. The Welsh Government and Local Authorities will not take on ownership until they understand the potential liabilities.
The RhonddaTunnel Society sees the best way forward as an agreement between the Welsh Govt. and SoS that ownership will be transferred before the tunnel re-opens. This would enable the RTS to apply for grants towards re-opening it.