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Campaigners appeal for public support

The group campaigning to save a disused West Yorkshire railway tunnel from abandonment has launched an ePetition to gather support for their alternative vision of reopening it as a cycle path.

Closed since the 1950s, Queensbury Tunnel is under threat because of proposals by Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE) - which maintains the structure on behalf of the Department for Transport - to insert 20-metre long concrete plugs in both entrances and backfill its ventilation shafts. Thereafter it will be allowed to collapse. A desk study has estimated the cost of this work at around £3 million, although no site investigations have yet been carried out to establish exactly what needs to be done. As a result, the figure is subject to considerable uncertainly. The money will come from the taxpayer.

Over the summer, a specialist engineering team visited the tunnel and produced a report on remediation options for the newly-constituted Queensbury Tunnel Society. It found that a proportionate repair scheme could be implemented for £2.81 million. The Society believes that this would transform the tunnel from a liability into an asset, allowing it to repay that investment over time through social, environmental, health and economic benefits.

When funding allows, the ultimate intention would be for Queensbury Tunnel to form part of a cycle path network linking communities between Bradford, Halifax and Keighley. However the tunnel would have to be secured within the next few months as HRE’s abandonment works - which are due to start next year - will put it beyond reuse.

Norah McWilliam, who leads the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “We are not seeking any public funds beyond those already committed to the tunnel; we only want them to be spent in a way that isn’t destructive. Our aim is to save the structure for future reuse, delivering maximum benefit and value for that £3 million. It’s about the legacy we leave for future generations.

“We need the Department for Transport to grant a stay of executive - suspending HRE’s work - while stakeholders carry out a full assessment of the tunnel’s great potential and its associated challenges.

“It’s now or never for our historic tunnel. This is a once-only opportunity."

The Society would like anyone who shares its vision for the tunnel - and the associated development of a local cycle path network - to sign its ePetition on (


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Issued 1st December 2016

Tunnel achieves historic status

A disused railway tunnel in West Yorkshire, which a campaign group is hoping to reopen as a cycle path, has been designated as a Historical Engineering Work by a panel within the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Queensbury Tunnel was engineered by Leeds-based John Fraser for the Great Northern Railway in the 1870s. When contractors Benton & Woodiwiss finished work on it, the tunnel became the longest on the GNR’s network at 2,501 yards (2,287 metres). Construction got underway in May 1874 and was intended to take two years, however progress was significantly slowed by the huge amount of water encountered which resulted in two of its seven shafts having to be abandoned and caused work in one of the pilot tunnels (headings) to be halted. The first freight train eventually passed through in October 1878.

Peter Harris, Tunnels Convenor on the Panel for Historical Engineering Works, said: “Queensbury Tunnel is a regionally significant structure because of its history, scale and construction. It was one of the first railway tunnels to benefit from the use of a rock drilling machine which helped the miners to drive a section of heading at a rate probably four times faster than using hand drills. In the 1930s, one of the shafts had a series of unusual reinforced concrete frames inserted to help support a secondary lining. Then, after closure, the tunnel was used as a seismological station. Cambridge University installed strainmeters in the central part of the tunnel and the scientists monitoring them had to sleep overnight in a hut. Not a pleasant experience.”

Sadly, the engineering significance of Queensbury Tunnel holds no sway with the Historical Railways Estate (HRE) which manages the tunnel on behalf of the Department for Transport. HRE is developing plans to abandon the structure - at a likely cost to the taxpayer of around £3 million - despite a recent study, produced by the Queensbury Tunnel Society, suggesting that it could be repaired for a similar sum and then brought back into use as a cycle path.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the group campaigning to save the tunnel, said: “We are delighted to hear that the Panel for Historical Engineering Works recognises the tunnel’s importance as a fabulous feat of engineering, even if the Historical Railways Estate is determined to put it beyond reuse. We ought to value this tunnel - and others like it - because of the role it could play in encouraging people to adopt more sustainable forms of transport.

“And we shouldn’t forget the sacrifices of the men who lost their lives building it, in the most appalling circumstances. I recognise that economics will always defeat sentimentality as far as public bodies are concerned, but the custodians of this remarkable structure have a moral responsibility to fully explore all avenues before consigning it to the history books. It could have a bright future, one which would repay the taxpayer’s investment by delivering social and economic benefits to the region. We should grasp that opportunity with both hands. We hope Bradford Council will stand alongside us in questioning why public money is being used to destroy a valuable asset like Queensbury Tunnel."


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Issued 20th October 2016

Engineering study offers hope for tunnel path

It would cost £2.81 million to repair a disused railway tunnel in West Yorkshire for use as a cycle path, according to a study published today by a campaign group. However Queensbury Tunnel, between Bradford and Halifax, is currently being prepared for abandonment at a cost of about £3 million by the Historical Railways Estate (HRE) which manages the structure on behalf of the Department for Transport. HRE is pursuing this option after its own report, which was presented to former Transport Minister Robert Goodwill earlier this year, put the cost of repair at £35 million. Mr Goodwill decided that this was unaffordable.

The new study, produced on behalf of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, found that most of the tunnel is in a fair condition and can be repaired, where necessary, using standard techniques adopted in operational railway tunnels. However, for about 300 metres, the tunnel cuts through a coal seam and is suffering from severe defects due to the arch being overloaded as the coal is crushed by the rock above it. Partial collapses have occurred at two locations. This section would have to be remediated using either in-situ or sprayed concrete.

Graeme Bickerdike, who co-ordinated the engineering study on behalf of the Society, said: “The campaign group was very fortunate in securing the help of an experienced civil engineer specialising in tunnel reconstruction and the contractor responsible for successfully repairing a collapsed disused tunnel under Liverpool in 2012. They went into Queensbury Tunnel to record the defects and then developed a remediation plan, programme of works and a costing.

“To the untrained eye, the collapses and the areas around them do look quite dramatic but, to people with a mining background, there are established ways of dealing with them that don’t involve huge costs. I spoke to a number of tunnelling and mining engineers about HRE’s £35 million figure - which was the product of a desk study - and they all regarded it as being off the scale. There has to be a proportionate and pragmatic approach to developing a repair solution here.”

In 2015, HRE commissioned an Options Report from Jacobs, its engineering consultants, to inform decision-making about the future management of Queensbury Tunnel which has the highest risk profile of any in HRE’s portfolio of 3,200 disused railway structures. The options ranged from a minimalist form of abandonment (plugging the entrances with concrete and allowing the tunnel to collapse), through partial or complete infilling, to repair for use as a cycle path.

However the report contains a number of errors resulting from Jacobs’ mistaken assertion that more than 900 yards of Queensbury Tunnel was driven using a “tunnel boring machine”. In reality, the advancement of around 300 yards of pilot tunnel (heading) was assisted by a “rock drilling machine” which drilled holes in the working face for blasting purposes. More critically, as the report is high level, it remains largely silent on the materials, quantities and construction methodologies associated with the various options. Without these, there can be little confidence that the costings are robust.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel campaign group, said: “I’m quite angry about it. HRE paid a lot of money for a report which ought to have been rejected. But instead, they took it to Robert Goodwill and effectively asked him to decide the future of the tunnel based on it. They are now proceeding towards abandonment - which involves pouring £3 million into a black hole - when there is a better option with a similar price tag that would convert the tunnel from a liability into an asset. By putting a cycle path through the tunnel, we believe that the £3 million investment would be repaid through social and economic benefits.

“Whether or not you care about Queensbury Tunnel, I think most people would object to a government body spending £3 million in a way that offers no value for money. We will be asking the Minister to halt the process of abandonment until a proper review has been conducted - based on proper costings - to decide the right way forward for the tunnel, one which offers the best possible outcome for taxpayers.”

To better inform such a review, Sustrans has begun work on a benefits study which will attempt to quantify the economic uplift a reopened Queensbury Tunnel might bring to Yorkshire’s economy. The findings are expected next spring.

Meanwhile HRE has made clear its intention to begin the physical process of abandoning the tunnel in the summer of 2018.


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Issued 10th October 2016


Minister blames landowner for tunnel difficulties

Sunday 03 March 2024