An Anorak's Paradise or a Passage To Narnia? by Rory Lushman
The box hill tunnel is situated on the Great Western region of our ever decreasing rail network. This tunnel can be found in Wiltshire, a county that many ufologists head for in the summer months in their quest for a fix and that fix being - crop circles. Many would claim that Wiltshire is the focal point for UFO activity in the UK. The Wiltshire soup consists of, ancient sites, military bases and "unusual events", all mixed together to form one mighty weird county or so we are led to believe by the UFO paranoia sweeping the county.
Now, how could a railway tunnel be caught up in all this weirdness. The Box Hill Tunnel is 1 mile, 1452 yards long and is situated on the Chippenham to Bath line. Matthew Williams has been looking into this tunnel; it's dark. I have emailed Matthew a few times and some of his comments have helped me. I would like to thank Matthew for putting up with my questions. Matthew told me that there is a secret tunnel that goes to Rudloe Manor from within the Box Tunnel.
Now let's assume just for the minute that there was a tunnel within the tunnel. How would access be gained off the main-line. It would take a set of points to steer the offending train into said tunnel. Speculation has it that the "secret" entrance is accessed from the London side or Thingley Junction side of the tunnel. If a train was approaching from the London end, it would need to cross over onto the adjacent line and then come off at the points. Trains drive on the left, just as we do on the roads, there are exceptions to this but the left side rule is the norm.
So given that the train approaches on the left line as you look at the tunnel, it would traverse a set of points, then leave into the secret tunnel via another set of points. Now, what happens when the train leavesthe location. Basically it can only go out the way it came in, back towards London. If it was required to go in the direction of Bath, it would either have to reverse out of the tunnel, then traverse another set of points to enable it to get back on the left track or the locomotive would have to run around its train to get it at the right end. If the locomotive had to run around its train, where would it do this? It could pull the train out of the tunnel and at a suitable set of points run around to the other end of the train. Now this practise is quite common in certain parts of the country, especially when shunting freight trains. If all the above was true, surely someone would have spotted these unique movements within the area. You have to remember that there are high speed trains passing all the time and all this shunting can only hold up procedures. Mind you, is it done in the middle of the night? I doubt it as there are quite a number of freight and high speed trains during the night as well.
If the tunnel entrance was accessed from the Bath side, the same manoeuvring problems would have to be overcome. If there was a secret tunnel, what would be sent into there, is it still used and if its disused, why has it been abandoned? Probably questions we will never get an answer to.
As rumours spread in ufology, they also spread in all other walks of life. Railways certainly have their share of rumours. If you speak to any rail employees, especially Great Western division employees, many will tell you that there is a secret tunnel within the Box Hill Tunnel. Is it a hiding hole for UFOs or is it a secret place into which we can find out more about UFOs. Matthew Williams says that UFO reports are sent to Rudloe Manor, is the secret tunnel of any significance or is it just a tale handed down from generation to generation to add a bit of sparkle to otherwise bored employees.
The railmen have their own version of the Holy Grail and it's certainly not UFOs. So what could be down in the tunnels that would get railmen whispering in corners. Well anoraks and gricers of the world unite and prepare to besiege the Box Hill Tunnel, for there in that dank, dark hole, lies the STRATEGIC RESERVE. The strategic what?
The Strategic Reserve is an oubliette for old steam engines from bygone days. Train crews recount tales of locomotives going missing without a trace. When a locomotive is scrapped, as with a car, this is meant to be recorded. Rail employees tell stories of locomotives disappearing, supposedly scrapped but when they visit the site of the carnage, no trace can be found. Many of the steam locomotives of the class 8 and 9f's supposedly vanished into the Twilight Zone.
Although rail crews will tell you its mainly locomotives that went missing, many types of other equipment are in store. Things like jeeps, weapons all have encountered the phantom scrapman. So what is the purpose of the Strategic Reserve? There are a number of reasons for having a strategic reserve. The main reason put forward is the oil crisis back in the 70's. Much of the worlds oil is found in Arabic countries and if there was a fall out with these people oil would run short, hence the use of steam trains, as we have plenty of coal stockpiled, supposedly. More sinister is the thought that steam engines would not be affected by the blast from a nuclear strike. This is probably bordering on paranoia. It would make sense to hold back equipment in case on an emergency but steam engines, bah humbug. Rail staff say there are many locations up and down the country where locomotives are kept. We do not hear rumours of masses of diesels being stored away. In the late 80's and early 90's, many classes of diesel went to the wall. This theory would lend itself well to the oil crisis scenario.
Many of the rail crews suggest that not only is the Box Tunnel an anoraks paradise but it is the place where the top brass would assemble in the event of a nuclear war. Rumours are rife that there is a Ѕ mile long platform along with an underground marshalling yard within this secret complex. They also suggest that the facility has room for over 4000 people and I'm sure the likes of you and me will not be on that list. They also suggest that this location has been chosen because its so far underground and it's very near to other military locations, with quick access to runways etc.
If steam trains were being kept how would they prevent rust from spreading within the boiler. If you filled the boiler with deoxygenated water, this would prevent rust. The temperature within a tunnel is constant, whatever time of year it is. Obviously the portal ends would fluctuate with the outside temperature but deep in a sealed tunnel, the temperature would not fluctuate.
Now the problem comes, when you want to fire up the boilers on the steam engines. In an underground facility, where would this be carried out, as the soot, smoke and steam would create an unbearable atmosphere. They would have to be readied in an open environment, heaven for the anoraks. In an emergency and at short notice, steam engines would not be very practical as they take up to 8-9 hours to get up to steam.
"Err General, we've just had a nuclear strike and all the diesels have failed, we need to move some equipment fast." "Can you come back in 10 hours time please, when the kettle has boilt."
What we must remember as well, is where would the steam locomotives get their coal and water from, as the coal bunkers and water towers have long gone. Where are all the turntables to turn the engines in the right direction? Running a locomotive tender first for long distances is not good practise. Its bad enough running forward with the limited view from a steam train but backwards at speed, it takes a confident driver!
Steam locomotives may be useful only after a nuclear strike for moving stuff but they are not instantly ready and not very practical or realistic.
If you go through the Box Tunnel and head towards Bath, you come across another tunnel, called Middle Hill. On the downside of the line (tracks moving away from London) on the Bath side of the tunnel, there are some disused platforms near the location of Shockerwick. At the end of the platform there are some stairs to an underground passage. It takes a sharp left and climbs up the hill. This was probably an old tunnel left over from the war. Could people from both ufology and the rail network be confusing the tunnel at Shockerwick for the tunnel at Box Hill. It is very easy to get wires crossed and maybe the rumours of tunnels have got mixed up. People who like a good mystery could associate a rumour of a secret tunnel with the Box tunnel. The Box Tunnel is well known but the Middle Hill tunnel is not. Could someone have visited the tunnels at Shockerwick and spread the word. People not in the know may have associated the tunnel to Box rather than Middle Hill, as it is known to many people.
People then could assume that the tunnel being secret could lead to Rudloe. Its very easy to get involved in this game of Chinese whispers. The whole sorry tale is a mish mash of rumours and speculation.
I think the whole thing is what you want it to be. Ufologists want it to be a place where there is a great UFO cover up. Rail enthusiasts want it to be their own version of the X-Files. Many rail employees claim that locomotives have gone missing, including some of the famous Blue Pullman units, all of which were meant to have been scrapped. Again speculation says that one unit was converted to a strategic mobile unit and painted black.
There are reports of steam locomotives being painted in all black, with their numbers and any identification marks removed. We had black helicopters, now we have black trains. Helicopters can fly out of sight but trains can only go where the rails take them, so I think this one is a red herring and complete bull manure.
So here is my recipe for a good mystery soup:- Wiltshire Soup. Find one county with military bases in it. Stir in a Ѕlb of Rudloe bullshit. Put a sprinkling of UFO rumours in. Add 60 steam locomotives. Put in a dark tunnel for a few years. Bring it out into the daylight. Bring it to the boil and serve to gullible people up and down the country with a slice of conspiracy bread. Top with unsubstantiated rumours and tales. ENJOY.
Another reliable source told me (well I think he was reliable, everyone else gets away without proving their sources) that there is a tunnel entrance into Rudloe but it is not accessed from within the tunnel but from a portal on the Chippenham side. This portal is meant to be outside where everyone can see it, although locked up. So now we have three possible sites. The Box Hill Tunnel, Shockerwick and now a portal on the up line of the line to Chippenham. My contact says that the portal is only wide enough for one track and all the rails to it have been lifted. If you look at the portal on the Chippenham side of the tunnel, then look to the right at about 200 yards before Box, there is a disused cutting which takes you to the portal. We will be visiting the site shortly. The portal is only one track wide. My contact worked on the Signalling and Telecomms side of the rail network. He has walked through the Box Hill Tunnel on three occasions and not once did he see a portal into any "secret base". He tells me that there could not be points inside the tunnel as the signal protecting it is an automatic one. An automatic signal, changes to red as soon as a train passes it, so that no other train smashes into the back of it. Once the train passes the next signal, the tunnel signal would go to orange or double orange. Double orange is preliminary caution i.e. the next signal is a single orange, which is caution and so the final signal will be red; danger.
Automatic signals allow for faster running trains, eliminating the signal box - in this case controlled from Bristol Temple Meads - interfering with the operation. The signal box can over-ride an automatic signal. You following this? Any section of track that has a junction ahead of it, would not have an automatic signal before it. The rule approaching an automatic signal is that if the light remains red, you may after two minutes approach the next section very cautiously. This would only apply if the section ahead was a segment without a junction before the next signal. If there was a junction ahead, this could have disastrous consequences if the two minute rule applied. Any train moving towards a junction without authorisation runs the risk of crashing into another, or having the points set against it, taking the train onto a wrong line. Today most signals are equipped with phones connected to the signal box, so a driver can double check before proceeding. So from this, we can conclude that there can be no entrance within the Box Tunnel to any secret location. The common consensus amongst ufologists and railmen is that the tunnel is disused. I cannot find one person who has ever seen a set of points within the Box Tunnel at any time. If the tracks had been lifted, when did this happen?
The favourite location for an entrance into a base, would probably be from the portal on the Chippenham side of the line, a completely separate site. Slightly out of the way but still visible from the line, not very secret.
Having walked through the tunnel, my contact says there are eight telephones spaced at regular intervals. These phones would connect you to the signal box. Next time you go on a train, look at the signal and you will see about 4ft off the ground, a telephone attached to the post. He also says there are a number of rooms within Box, about 8ft square, where the permanent way gangs - people who maintain the track - keep their tools etc. The Box Hill Tunnel was built for the Great Western Railway who built wide gauge railways. The initials GWR were often referred to as "Gods Wonderful Railway." The rest of the UK used what we now know as the standard gauge. People travelling in and out of the GWR would have to change trains as the difference in gauges would not allow through-running. The GWR finally had to admit defeat and made their tracks standard. So many of the old tunnels and bridges have more space between them and the trains than the rest of the country.
My contact also says he has never signed the Official Secrets Act, even though working in the Box Hill Tunnel. He knows of no other person who has signed the OSA. Matthew Williams told me his informant - who is meant to be ringing me and never has - had signed the OSA. I can accept that people who work on sections of line that connect to a government, i.e. an ROF establishment, do sign the OSA. My contact and many other rail employees, I have spoke to, have not signed the OSA. So we can conclude from this that there is nothing of significance attached to any rail connection to Rudloe, now or in the past. If there are steam locomotives within Box Hill, then this is truly an anoraks paradise, maybe they dream they will go there when they die, the rail buffs Valhalla.
As I have said many times, secret bases, contain secrets but this does not mean an ET connection. Rudloe Manor both for rail and UFO enthusiasts has become a dreamers mirror, you see there what you want to see. What few facts there are, get intertwined with a tangle of lies, rumour, speculation and the search for a truly weird and wonderful railway.
I bet Issy Brunel is laughing in his grave. To think all these years on, a simple railway tunnel - though not simple to build - would attract the attention of the classiest anoraks in the UK. We love a good conspiracy and we love to fall into the trap by jumping on every little bit of information, no matter where it has come from. We then pass this down or on to other people, who in turn add their little bit of "conspiracy" to it.
However the tunnel was built and aligned so the sun shone down it on Issy's birthday, April 9th. Due to not allowing for atmospheric refraction, the sun actually shines down it from April 6th to the 8th and misses his birthday.
There are bound to be truths wrapped up in all this confusion but in our haste to make a story more exciting, we cannot discern the truth from the lies. As an over worked phrase goes, "the truth is out there" but then so are the lies and the poor information that leads us to inane conclusions.
Where has they myth of secret locations for steam trains come from. Most of the tales come from railway workers across the country, who recount unusual events. Two such claims involve train crews who were relieved of their duties for the day, only having worked five minutes. Their locomotives were taken away by new crews and were supposedly never seen again. The crews who had only done five minutes, were told to go home and they would receive full pay.
Whilst these tales or myths come from railway workers, we are looking at another site that has parts of a village community baffled but that's another story. The location of this site will be revealed in the next DOWN TO EARTH magazine, issue 5. Copyright of Rory Lushman 1998.
This case is still ongoing and we are investigating another location that is part of the Strategic Reserve Myth. We were recently watched by the police at a site that was abandoned years ago but still had surveillance cameras there. Why? However we do not believe for one minute that there is a UFO connection at this site.
If anybody has more information on the Strategic Reserve, either here in the UK or similar cases abroad, then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or RHow159900@aol.com
Taken from the Pendle, Hyndburn UFO Network's magazine Down To Earth, Volume 1, Issue 4.
March 1999 update:
Since the article was written we have located the "secret" tunnel. This is located next to the main portal of the Box, in a deep cutting, not easily seen by the public. The Bath end of the tunnel is very visible to the public and indeed there are many pictures of this end. There are few pictures of the London end.
Rudloe Manor is situated on the top of Box and so there always seemed to be some sinister connection hinted at from the railway tunnel below.
On many rail forums, there were doubts to whether this tunnel next to the main Box portal on the London end ever existed. I think the photograph we published a few months back proved it did, cue X-Files type music. Whilst there were doubts the smaller tunnel existed, there seemed to be a feeling that the secret tunnel was actually located from within the depths of the Box Tunnel.
We have proved that signalling arrangements ruled this out. This would have been very dangerous.
I think many researchers have proved that the UFO connection, weak as it may have been, has disappeared from Rudloe.
The myth of steam trains being kept in the Box tunnel needed to be resolved. The attached picture resolves this and indeed a number of issues.
The train featured entering the "secret" tunnel is an ammunition train. This is what this site was intended for, along with the other site at Monkton Farleigh, a few miles away.
Take a look at the diesel engine in the picture. It has a cut down cab to allow it to work in the narrow tunnels within. This is work that would have needed to be done especially to reduce the cab size. Some say it was carried out at Swindon. A standard locomotive would not fit into this tunnel, so bang goes the theory that there are steam trains locked away in this tunnel.
This smaller tunnel was originally a test tunnel before work commenced on the main line tunnel next to it. The smaller tunnel was taken over for the war effort.
The smaller tunnel is now protected by iron doors. Behind the doors, there are rooms off to the sides, we have pictures of these. About 200 yards back there is a wall and behind this wall there are still the original tracks.
I have met a number of people who claim to have been in this tunnel, one way back in the 1940's.
I think, even though there may be speculation the tunnel is still used for housing something, I'm sure its not UFO's or trains. Its probably just used as a dumping ground for excess materials.
There are a number of books that talk about these great underground cities and there are a number of web sites that show the interior of Monkton Farleigh. Since these tunnels have fallen into disrepair, there are always those that think there is some great conspiracy lurking away in the depths.
I think we can safely say the rail myth at the Box is now dead.