News Releases

2017 2016 2014

Tunnel condition under scrutiny

Plans are being developed for a programme of investigations to gain deeper insight into the condition of Queensbury Tunnel which campaigners hope to reopen as part of a cycle path network.

As things stand, Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE) - which acts as custodian of the disused railway tunnel on behalf of the Department for Transport - could begin work to abandon the 1.4-mile long structure next summer. This will involve infilling critical parts of it with concrete in a project likely to cost around £3 million. Funding will come from the taxpayer. For the cycle path proposal to go ahead, ownership would have to be taken on by Bradford Council, with the £3 million also being transferred as a dowry to cover future maintenance work.

However there is a huge disparity between existing estimates for the repairs needed to make the tunnel fit for public use. Last year, a high-level desk study by HRE’s consultants put the cost at more than £35 million; however specialist engineers acting for the Queensbury Tunnel Society visited the tunnel in June 2016 and thereafter developed a 44-week programme of works for £2.8 million.

The new investigations will be funded by HRE and their cost deducted from the £3 million dowry in the event of a transfer going ahead. However, to ensure their independence, the scope of works will be defined by Bradford Council who will also appoint a suitably experienced company to undertake them. Progress will be made over the coming months. Based on the findings, the Council will formulate its final position on the tunnel’s future.

Graeme Bickerdike, who co-ordinates the Queensbury Tunnel Society’s engineering activities, said: “Until now, the repair proposals and costings have relied on previously available technical evidence, visual inspections and informed judgement as to how defects might develop over time. We anticipate the upcoming work will involve a tactile examination of the tunnel’s lining and intrusive investigations to understand the loads being applied to it. This should reveal a sharper picture of the necessary repairs and associated costs, enabling the Council to reach a robust, informed and confident decision.”

Meanwhile, the Society has published a three-minute film capturing its aspiration for an ambitious cycle path network linking Bradford, Halifax and Keighley, with the tunnel as its centrepiece. Set to music, it shows walkers and cyclists on the two sections of the Great Northern Railway Trail between Cullingworth and Queensbury, which could be joined and extended to improve connectivity for commuters and attract more visitors to the area.

A recent study by Sustrans suggested that, over 30 years, such a network could drive a £37.6 million economic uplift. Queensbury Tunnel alone would contribute around £10 million to that figure through increased tourism. If the tunnel was repaired for £2.8 million, a high benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.2:1 could be achieved.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “It’s an inspiring film which clearly demonstrates that our horizons extend far beyond the tunnel. We are promoting a bold and positive vision for cycling, linking communities to the west of Bradford just as the Great Northern Railway did. Despite being disused for more than 50 years, its trackbed and structures are mostly still there - etched into the landscape - as potential assets for reuse.

“As we move towards more active forms of travel and tackle our dependency on fossil fuels, high quality infrastructure will have to be provided to encourage people off the roads. As we know, cars and bikes don’t mix safely.

“Whilst our immediate focus has to be on the tunnel given the ongoing threat to its survival, we recognise that it doesn’t have a sustainable future without the cycle path. So we will continue to build public and political support for a bigger, better Great Northern Railway Trail, working alongside other groups who share that goal. There’s too much at stake for us to allow timidity and short-sightedness to succeed by default.”

The film, which also features attractions within reach of the proposed paths and spectacular aerial views of two viaducts, can be viewed via the Society’s website and on YouTube at https://youtu.be/c4f0M_qfvVY.

Last Friday, the Rhondda Tunnel Society announced that it had secured a grant of £90,975 for a tactile examination of a two-mile long tunnel in South Wales as part of a similar campaign. As at Queensbury, the findings will be used to inform decision-making about the structure’s transfer from the Department for Transport to the Welsh Government or local Councils, as well as the development of a repair scheme and costing.

--ENDS--

To link to the new film or embed it on your webpage:

(Link) https://youtu.be/c4f0M_qfvVY

(Embed) <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c4f0M_qfvVY?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

A collection of high-resolution photos for Media use is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/media/imagery.shtml

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 27th September 2017

Study examines economic case for tunnel path

The local economy could benefit by more than £37 million over 30 years if an ambitious network of cycle paths was created incorporating the disused railway tunnel under Queensbury, West Yorkshire. That's one finding from an independent study commissioned by Bradford Council and co-funded by Calderdale Council and Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE), the tunnel's current custodian.

The study, undertaken by Sustrans' Research and Monitoring Unit, looked at seven routes and estimated the annual walking and cycling increase likely to result from each being opened as a cycle path, based on experience elsewhere. The routes were then combined into 11 possible networks and their value-for-money determined using an established transport appraisal tool. Likely tourist spending was also considered.

The work found that the most extensive network - linking Halifax to Keighley and Bradford - would bring economic, health and tourism benefits of £37.6 million over 30 years, an annual average of £1.25 million. Including maintenance, costs over the same period would reach £11.6 million, resulting in a benefit-to-cost (BCR) ratio of 3.2:1. This is regarded as delivering “high value for money”. Evidence suggests that the level of capital investment involved would also sustain 80 direct jobs and induce a further 95 indirect jobs. Alternative networks, excluding the legs to either Keighley or Bradford, offer similar BCRs of 3.2:1 and 3.1:1 respectively.

All these BCRs were calculated using the £2.8 million repair cost for Queensbury Tunnel developed last year by the society campaigning to reopen it. When the £35.4 million figure put forward by the Historical Railways Estate is used, all the scenarios offer low or poor value for money. Higher BCRs of 3.8:1 and 3.7:1 were established for networks which exclude Queensbury Tunnel, simply extending the existing Great Northern Railway Trail to Keighley and/or Bradford. However, without the tunnel, tourism benefits estimated at £10.8 million over 30 years would be mostly lost.

At this stage, Sustrans makes clear that the study’s conclusions are ‘preliminary’, pending further development work on the routes and a deeper understanding of the tunnel’s condition.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “We want to thank Sustrans for the time and effort they’ve put into this complex and wide-ranging study, one which has been complicated by the many uncertainties involved.

“In its current form, it does indicate that - when the tourist potential is recognised - three of the five scenarios incorporating Queensbury Tunnel present high value for money. We regard that as a good outcome. A BCR of 3.2:1 is comparable with the Two Tunnels scheme in Bath which has helped to drive a significant uplift in cycling across the city.

“Although the economic case can make or break our campaign, we also need to remember that it’s only one of the drivers. We are doing this for our children’s future, to improve health, to enhance connectivity, to provide a new leisure opportunity, to save a fabulous historical asset and to give our community a sense of worth. We want to put smiles on faces - the value of that is incalculable.

“If we are serious about encouraging people onto bikes, there is an absolute need to invest in safe, high-quality infrastructure, separating cyclists from the dangers encountered on our roads. Given the local topography, Queensbury Tunnel has a vital role to play in any path connecting Calderdale to Airedale. Sooner or later, we’re going to want such a link and I don’t want our grandchildren to regret the short-sightedness of today’s generation if we are willing to watch £3 million of public money being spent on the tunnel’s self-destruction. What a wasted opportunity that would be.”

--ENDS--

The full Sustrans report can be downloaded from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/reports/

To link to our latest campaign video or embed it on your webpage:

(Link) https://youtu.be/u0WdcohuELc

(Embed) <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/u0WdcohuELc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

A collection of high-resolution photos for Media use is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/media/imagery.shtml

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 16th August 2017

Virtual cyclist ventures into tunnel

A film has been released of a computer-generated bike ride through Queensbury Tunnel which is currently the focus of a campaign to reopen it as a cycle path. Lasting six minutes, the trip offers a sense of what the former railway structure would look and feel like if the repair programme developed last year by the Queensbury Tunnel Society was implemented.

As things stand, work to abandon the 1.4-mile long tunnel - parts of which are in poor condition - could begin next summer. This is likely to involve inserting concrete plugs in both entrances and backfilling its ventilation shafts. Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate, the tunnel’s current custodian, would carry out the work at an estimated cost of £3 million, using funds from the taxpayer. The Society believes that this money would be better invested in a remediation scheme, converting the structure into an asset which could form part of a future cycle path network connecting Halifax to Bradford and Keighley.

Development of the film involved building a 3D model of Queensbury Tunnel, accurately to scale, and then plotting a course through it at a realistic pace for a cyclist. To create the final version, more than 9,000 images then had to be rendered, each one taking between four and ten minutes.

All the tunnel’s main features are shown over the course of the journey, including its five ventilation shafts, two sets of steel arches and an old track panel left by the salvage crew in 1963. Restored to its former position is a gong which was part of the railway’s signalling equipment. Each of the Society’s proposed repairs is indicated; amongst these are two in-situ concrete arches where partial collapses have occurred. And below No.2 shaft is an art installation powered by the huge volume of water that pours down it.

Norah McWilliam, who leads the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “For the past three years we’ve been promoting a vision of what the tunnel could be like if restored, but without people really being able to visualise it. Now they can. They get a real appreciation of the tunnel’s length, see the shafts and refuges, gauge the extent of the repair work and its impact on the original structure. They can also understand the tunnel’s potential as a space, perhaps as the world’s longest sculpture park!

“Sadly the current direction of travel is towards abandonment. We believe that’s the wrong direction because it involves wasting £3 million of public money. Nobody gets any value from it. What we are offering is a positive picture of what that money can do. Economically, the tunnel could help to revitalise the district’s fortunes, without even considering the health, leisure and connectivity benefits that would come with a cycle path network.

“We urge Bradford Council to seize this opportunity. If it’s serious in its stated ambition to make cycling ‘a natural part of everyone’s daily life’, high-quality infrastructure has to be provided to get people off the roads. We will work constructively and collaboratively with the Council in achieving that goal. This film is a clear demonstration of the time and energy we’re ready to invest.”

--ENDS--

To link to the video or embed it on your webpage:

(Link) https://youtu.be/u0WdcohuELc

(Embed) <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/u0WdcohuELc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

A collection of high-resolution photos for Media use is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/media/imagery.shtml

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 8th August 2017

Study reveals navvies’ tunnel sacrifice

As the Historical Railway Estate (HRE) prepares to spend around £3 million of public money abandoning Queensbury Tunnel, the Society campaigning to save it has published a study of the ten men known to have lost their lives during its construction 140 years ago.

At 2,501 yards (2,287 metres) in length, Queensbury Tunnel was one of the most challenging projects ever undertaken by the Great Northern Railway. Engineered by John Fraser in the 1870s, it formed part of a strategically important north-south route, bypassing the congested lines around Leeds and Bradford. It was anticipated that work would take two years, however contractors Benton & Woodiwiss had to cope with huge volumes of water entering the workings. Consequently two of the seven construction shafts had to be abandoned. Work was eventually completed in July 1878 and, when it opened three months later, the tunnel became the 11th longest on Britain’s railway network.

Around 600 navvies played a part in building Queensbury Tunnel, whilst a further 100 laboured in the cuttings at either end. From a health and safety perspective, they endured conditions unimaginable in the 21st century. Of the ten men confirmed to have been killed, three died as a result of explosions, two were crushed, one fell down a shaft, one was struck by a falling skip, one drowned, one was hit on the head by a collapsing roof support and one was run over. The death rate therefore was about one worker in 70, although many others sustained injuries that could easily have proved fatal.

At 44, the oldest to die was John Swire, a profoundly deaf man who had only returned to work on the morning of his death after being hurt in another accident. His right leg was severed below the knee when wagons ran over it. The youngest casualty was 25-year-old Frederick Goulding who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time - standing between a wagon and a roof support when a large rock smashed into the wagon, causing Goulding to get crushed.

But perhaps the most tragic misadventure befell a farm labourer called Captain Pickles. On 15th May 1877, he married Edna Oddy at Bradford Parish Church. Days later, in a probable attempt to give his wife a better life, the 30-year-old secured work as a platelayer on the new railway, a job that attracted a higher rate of pay. However on 17th June, barely a month after the happiest day of his life, he was hit on the head by a half-ton timber in Queensbury Tunnel which had been dislodged by a trolley striking it. His injuries were so severe that death was instantaneous.

Norah McWilliam, who leads the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “It’s easy just to see Queensbury Tunnel as a black hole in the ground but, beyond its physical form, it has a compelling story to tell and many men made appalling sacrifices to drive it through the hill. As well as those killed, others suffered injuries that would change their lives forever.

“Of course none of this is a reason to save the tunnel at any price; but, in our view, it does impose a moral obligation to robustly examine all possible options before deciding to destroy it. We owe those men a huge debt because they gave their lives in pursuit of the great social revolution brought by the railways in the 19th century. We shouldn’t allow our engineering heritage to be swept aside simply because that’s the easy option, particularly when the tunnel still has the potential to serve a useful purpose for generations to come.”

The Queensbury Tunnel Society is campaigning for the structure to be repaired so that it can serve as the centrepiece of a future cycle path network connecting Bradford, Halifax and Keighley. However designers working for the Historical Railways Estate are already making progress with an abandonment scheme ahead of physical works starting in 2018. According to HRE, the cost of repair would be £35.4 million, but a specialist engineering team acting for the Society last year put forward a “proportionate and pragmatic” remediation programme costed at £2.8 million.

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 change.org (tiny.cc/QueensburyTunnel). The report on the ten fatal accident victims can be downloaded from the Reports section of the Society’s website (www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/reports/).

--ENDS--

A collection of high-resolution photos for Media use is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/media/imagery.shtml

To link to our latest campaign video or embed it on your webpage:

(Link) https://youtu.be/fax5oWFAz_s

(Embed) <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fax5oWFAz_s" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 20th March 2017

Tunnelling study casts doubt over repair cost

It would be cheaper to drive a new Queensbury Tunnel than repair the existing one at the price put forward by the body that looks after it. That’s one of several surprising findings contained in a study of tunnelling costs published by the Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS) which is campaigning for the historic structure to be restored so that it can eventually become the centrepiece of a cycle path network connecting Bradford, Halifax and Keighley.

However the future of the disused railway tunnel is currently under threat because of abandonment plans being progressed by Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE) which examines and maintains it on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT). Last year Jacobs, HRE’s consulting engineers, produced a report on future asset management options for the tunnel which put the cost of abandonment at about £3 million, compared with £35.4 million for repair. Unsurprisingly Robert Goodwill, then Minister of State at the DfT, ruled out repair as too expensive.

Subsequently, a review of Jacobs’ report by specialist tunnel engineers found a number of basic and substantive errors, as a result of which the Society asked the Department for Transport to prevent any further abandonment work being carried out until a full and robust examination of options for the tunnel has been undertaken. The DfT has not responded to that request; neither has it made any comment on the “pragmatic and proportionate” remediation scheme - costed at £2.81 million - put forward by the same specialist tunnel engineers.

Norah McWilliam, who leads the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “Having ruled out repair on the basis of a deficient report with questionable costings, the Department for Transport now seems to have pulled the shutters down, refusing to even acknowledge a robust repair plan developed by a specialist engineering team which demonstrates that the tunnel could be made safe for public use at a price comparable with abandonment. Our new study provides clear insight into just how inflated that initial costing was. Why did HRE not recognise that? They have serious questions to answer about Jacobs’ report, the process that resulted in it being accepted and their subsequent use of it.”

The new study has found that, in 2009, another report by Jacobs’ put the cost of repairing Queensbury Tunnel’s lining at just £1.2 million. The firm’s latest figure of £35.4 million therefore represents an increase of 2,850% in seven years and a cost per linear metre of £15,470; that is 24% or 29% more than HS2 expects to spend constructing its new bores (£11,000 or £12,500 per metre, depending on the type of machine used) despite 89% of Queensbury Tunnel being in ‘fair’ condition. Using unit costs developed for three tunnelling projects in Scotland, the study also estimates that a new Queensbury Tunnel could be constructed for an upper-bound figure of £25.6 million, almost £10 million less than Jacobs’ repair cost.

Graeme Bickerdike, who co-ordinated the study on QTS’ behalf, said “Right from the outset, everyone we’ve spoken to about HRE’s £35.4 million repair figure - engineers, consultants, contractors, mining specialists - have all regarded it as being ‘off the scale’. The work we’ve just completed has crystallised that view. A secondary, spray concrete lining could be installed from one end of Queensbury Tunnel to the other (2,501 yards/2,287 metres) for less than £10 million; an entirely new tunnel could be driven for about £25 million. How then can Jacobs and HRE seriously believe that it would cost more than £35 million to repair the existing tunnel which, for the most part, is in fair condition?”

HRE’s designers are already making progress with the abandonment scheme although physical works are not expected to start until next year. Meanwhile the Society has reiterated its view that all such activity should be halted because the basis upon which the abandonment decision was made - the report produced by Jacobs - was substantially flawed.

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 change.org

(tiny.cc/QueensburyTunnel).

--ENDS--

The full tunnelling Cost Comparison report can be downloaded from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/reports/

A collection of high-resolution photos for Media use is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/media/imagery.shtml

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 6th February 2017

Latest

Tunnel condition under scrutiny

Saturday 21 October 2017