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Childhood adventurers revisit tunnel

Nowadays their antics would be condemned by officialdom, but times were very different back then. On 11th February 1960, 12-year-olds Kathleen Leonard and Trudy Baxendale joined four of their school mates to walk through the disused railway tunnel under Queensbury, West Yorkshire, almost one-and-a-half miles in length. It was an exploit that left them cold, wet and frightened, until sanctuary was found in a house close to the northern entrance. The police, their parents and a newspaper reporter then arrived.

Almost 58 years later, Kathy and Trudy (now Daveney and Bradburne) have made an emotional first return to the tunnel to recount their experience. The visit was arranged for a second collection of filmed interviews - entitled ‘Reflections’ - which the Queensbury Tunnel Society has produced in its campaign to save the Victorian structure for future use as part of a cycle path network.

There was deep snow on the ground when the six girls left school at 3:30pm and headed to the tunnel. Trudy had planned the trip and Kathleen borrowed her father’s torch, but the pair were unaware of what might lay ahead of them. “I don’t think we had any idea really, how bad it could be,” suggests Kathy. “My biggest memory is all the water coming down a big vent. We had to breathe in and go around it. I cried and they all took the mickey out of me because I wanted to go back all the time.”

Expecting the trip to last half-an-hour, it was well after 6:00pm when they finally emerged into the deep cutting close to the site of Queensbury’s former station. Darkness had fallen and the torch was no longer working. Exhausted and bedraggled, they clambered up the hillside, attracted by the lights of a house. The lady who answered the door took pity on them, offering soup and pairs of her husband’s socks. She rang Trudy’s father who informed the police that all six were safe; reunions then followed.

The story appeared in the following day’s Halifax Courier and, after the police turned up, school was buzzing with news of their escapade. “We were called to the Headmaster’s office,” recalls Trudy. “He was telling us off but he had a twinkle in his eye. He said ‘What were you thinking?’ I remember being asked that question by my parents when I got home. I didn’t know the answer then and I don’t know the answer now!”

Kathy and Trudy’s contribution will appear next Thursday - one of five videos to be published during the week on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as the Queensbury Tunnel Society’s website. They will cover broad themes - Cycling, Campaign, Engineering, Memories and Politics - with a new one being released each morning.

On Monday, Mike Babbitt, Head of Network Development at Sustrans, describes how valuable disused railway structures are in developing cycle paths, because of “the magnificent legacy Victorian engineers left us. They flattened out the hills and the valleys,” he asserts.

Wednesday’s video features Peter Harris, a highly-respected tunnel engineering specialist, who looks at the condition of Queensbury Tunnel and how it can be repaired. “Having seen other problems of a similar nature developing elsewhere - and seen how some contractors have approached solutions, safely and carefully - then I do know that it can be done.”

Andrew Senior, a Conservative Councillor in Queensbury ward, appears on Friday. His Motion in support of the campaign was recently backed by a full meeting of Bradford Council. “Once I found out that [the tunnel] was potentially going to be gone in June and will be lost forever, I just felt that I needed to stand up,” he states.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, features in Tuesday’s video. She says: “Kathy and Trudy are the real stars. It was a joy to meet them and hear their story. The memories clearly came flooding back - like it was yesterday - as we walked with them up the cutting, 58 years after they were last there. It was quite emotional for all of us.

“Distant officials see Queensbury Tunnel as a relic - a historic liability to be torn from the landscape and devoid of any value. We know that it’s embedded in our social history and could be again. Future generations must have the opportunity to enjoy adventures just like Kathy and Trudy did. We cannot allow a lack of vision to deprive them of that.”

A short trailer featuring clips from the five interviews can be viewed at youtu.be/2kA_mHo0CQ8.

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To link to the trailer for the ‘Reflections’ series or embed it on your webpage:
(Link) https://youtu.be/2kA_mHo0CQ8
(Embed) <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2kA_mHo0CQ8" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

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

More general information on the campaign is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 9th February 2018

Video series puts tunnel in the spotlight

The Queensbury Tunnel Society, which is promoting the idea of a cycle path through a disused railway tunnel to the west of Bradford, will publish a collection of filmed interviews next week with people who have connections with the Victorian structure or see its potential as part of a sustainable transport network.

Each two minutes long, the videos will cover five broad themes - Cycling, Campaign, Engineering, Memories and Politics - and form part of the Society’s ongoing efforts to convince stakeholders, including Bradford Council, that the tunnel is an asset, not a liability. A new video will be released every morning and a second series is already planned for later in February. The aim is to raise awareness of the tunnel, its plight and the potential benefits of incorporating it into a cycle network connecting Halifax to Bradford and Keighley.

The tunnel is currently under threat because of abandonment plans being drawn up by Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE) which looks after it on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT). This will involve infilling critical sections with concrete at a cost to the taxpayer of about £3 million. Political pressure is currently being applied to suspend those works pending the outcome of two investigations - one being progressed for Bradford Council and another from consultants appointed by the DfT.

The first video, to be published on Monday, features Councillor Dot Foster, Calderdale’s Cycling and Walking Champion. She outlines the benefits of exercise - specifically the creation of new shared paths - in the battle against obesity and mental ill-health. “If the vision of Councils in the local area is truly to improve the health and wellbeing of the local people, we’ve got to invest,” she states.

On Tuesday, Jeff McQuillan, Chair of the Great Northern Railway Trail Development Group, takes us back to the year 2000 when two railway historians met Bradford’s Lord Mayor to convince him that three disused railway viaducts should be saved and adopted for cycling. Having achieved that goal, Jeff believes that “We’ve got to link towns and cities; that’s why the idea of [links to] Bradford, Keighley and Halifax have come about in the last few years. So that is quite an ambitious project.”

Wednesday’s video sees Graeme Bickerdike, the Queensbury Tunnel Society’s engineering co-ordinator, look behind the headline repair figure of £35.4 million which the Historical Railways Estate developed for the tunnel in 2016. “They took a disproportionate approach to the engineering and some of the individual costs were over-inflated,” he asserts. “So we’ve really been confronted by the need for a two-year long damage limitation exercise.”

Harry Thompson became a locomotive fireman in the late 1940s, regularly visiting what became known as the Queensbury Lines. On Thursday, he recalls how a colleague had a mishap with a signal in Queensbury Tunnel. “He was asleep! When he passed the signal, it rang a bell and woke him up. He put his head out and, of course, he got caught on the head with it.”

Bradford West MP, Naz Shah, offers her perspective on Friday. She believes the tunnel should be celebrated and restored for people to ride through. “I think it’s pretty horrendous really - just the thought of £3 million worth of concrete in a tunnel that people dug out for the purpose of our infrastructure and support and connectivity. It would be an absolute travesty.”

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, says: “We’re working hard to promote our vision of the tunnel as a feat of Victorian engineering that still has a valuable role to play in the 21st century. These videos will help us, through the insight of friends who share the vision. It’s a complex story with lots of sub-plots, but we have to unravel them before it’s too late. There’s no going back if, in 20 years, we suddenly see the need for a cycle path connecting the Calder and Aire valleys. No amount of regret will shift all that concrete or the damage inflicted by time.”

A short trailer, featuring clips from the five interviews, can be viewed at youtu.be/TKdQ0YVhoKk.

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To link to the trailer for the ‘Reflections’ series or embed it on your webpage:
(Link) https://youtu.be/TKdQ0YVhoKk
(Embed) <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TKdQ0YVhoKk" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

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

More general information on the campaign is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 26th January 2018

Councillors voice support for tunnel path

Bradford Councillors have expressed overwhelming support for the idea of restoring the disused railway tunnel under Queensbury, West Yorkshire, to host a cycle path connecting the city to Halifax.

They voted unanimously in favour of a motion tabled by Andrew Senior who represents Queensbury ward for the Conservatives. It asks Bradford Council to engage with interested parties in exploring options for the tunnel, investigate the feasibility of taking on its ownership, facilitate discussions with the Department for Transport (DfT), Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE) and other funders, and requests an early report to the Executive setting out these actions.

Mr Senior told Councillors: “The tunnel has been earmarked for an abandonment project involving blocking it all up with concrete at a likely cost of £3 million. If the Council was to allow this to happen, it would mean this marvellous piece of Bradford heritage would be lost forever.”

Of the tunnel’s “exciting” proposed reuse, he said: “It will attract people from outside of the Bradford district to visit and, in a forward thinking way, this project will create an income back to the Council.”

Paul Cromie, Independent - a fellow Queensbury ward Councillor - also focussed on the economics. “We need to keep in mind the long-term effect the tunnel will have on the environment and the community. Sustrans estimates that, over the next 30 years, it will benefit to the tune of £37.6 million from a cycle network with the tunnel as its centrepiece. £3 will be returned for every £1 spent.”

“Queensbury Tunnel - we support in principle…it’s in line with our cycling strategy to expand key cycling networks across the district,” said Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, Executive Member for Regeneration, Planning and Transport. “The issue is trying to work out the accurate costs. Highways England’s is many, many millions; the Queensbury Tunnel Society - who’ve done fantastic work in raising awareness of the tunnel’s potential as an asset - their figure is a lot lower.”

Mr Ross-Shaw revealed that the Council will be asking the Historical Railways Estate to extend the June deadline imposed on the Council - after which abandonment works will start - to ensure sufficient time is available to establish a robust repair cost and assess possible funding sources. HRE recently told the Society that works are on course to get underway this summer, subject to the outcome of a planning application.

Taking up this point, Councillor Alun Griffiths from the Liberal Democrat and Independent group, asserted: “It’s been there for a hundred years; it won’t hurt to hang around for a bit longer whilst a decision is made and funding is sorted. There is no urgency to fill it in. We should do everything we can as a Council - with the support of other organisations - to put a stop on the filling-in so we make some sensible decisions about what could be an absolutely brilliant asset to this community.”

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, responded: “What the Councillors’ support demonstrates is that this is not a party political issue. Everyone with their eyes open can see the sense in transforming our historic tunnel into a facility that will improve connectivity, benefit the environment and help in our battle against obesity, rather than pumping public money into a valueless abandonment scheme.

“We must look now to the Council’s own structural investigations to ensure they deliver success, not excess. We have said from the outset that the only sustainable repair option for the tunnel is one that’s proportionate, pragmatic and developed by engineers with deep, specialist insight. We don’t want to waste public money on ‘over-the-top’ repairs either.”

Support for the tunnel’s reuse as a cycle path continues to build. An ePetition, which seeks to suspend HRE’s abandonment plans, has gained more than 7,200 signatures, both from across the UK and abroad. It can be signed at www.tiny.cc/QueensburyTunnel.

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To link to our latest campaign video 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" 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 17th January 2018

Political developments in tunnel campaign

The future of the disused railway tunnel under Queensbury, West Yorkshire will be debated by Bradford councillors next week as the campaign to restore it for cycling purposes enters a crucial phase.

Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE), which looks after the 1.4-mile long tunnel on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT), could begin works to infill key parts of the structure in the summer if a transfer of ownership to another statutory body has not been agreed. This work would render it permanently beyond use and effectively rule out any future development of a cycle network connecting Halifax with Bradford and Keighley.

A motion put forward by Conservative Councillor Andrew Senior, who represents Queensbury Ward, will be put to the vote during a meeting of the full Council on Tuesday 16th January. It welcomes the efforts of the Queensbury Tunnel Society and Sustrans to develop plans for reopening the structure and, if passed, asks Council officials to engage with stakeholders in exploring options for the tunnel. It also calls on the Chief Executive “to investigate the feasibility of Bradford Council taking ownership of the tunnel so as to secure the option of it being reopened” and for discussions about its future to be facilitated with HRE and the DfT.

Mr Senior says: “The tunnel could provide the venue for a beautiful walk or cycle ride - even in inclement weather - allowing people to keep fit. Even on the worst of days it would be better than staying indoors due to rain or wind. The tunnel could offer a unique amenity and I am confident that it would appeal to many, many people from near and afar. I hope that my colleagues across the Council Chamber will back my motion supporting utilising the tunnel and then work alongside me and anyone else who is interested to see this happen.”

Meanwhile Lord Tony Greaves, a Liberal Democrat Peer, has submitted a written Parliamentary question asking what discussions the Government is having with local authorities and interested parties with a view to completing a cycle route along the former railway between Halifax, Bradford and Keighley, via Queensbury Tunnel. He has also asked the Government to “instruct the Historical Railways Estate not to take any action which would prevent the restoration and use of Queensbury Tunnel for such a purpose until the completion of a full and proper assessment of the tunnel’s condition, economic potential, connectivity challenges and associated asset management issues.”

Lord Greaves, who was born in Bradford and is a keen recreational cyclist, says: “I’m asking the question to try to pin down the Government on this matter and to help in the process of persuading them that the creation of a cycleway that uses the tunnel is a sensible, realistic and very desirable way forward.

“I am very impressed with the commitment and professionalism of the Queensbury Tunnel Society and will do what I can to help their campaign.”

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Society, says: “We are obviously delighted that Councillor Senior and Lord Greaves can see the tunnel’s potential and support our campaign to save it. Whilst we recognise it’s a structure that presents many challenges, we know they can be overcome at a sustainable cost and that investment in the tunnel will be repaid handsomely over time through social and economic benefits.

“We hope that both the local Council and central Government will work collaboratively with us to ensure those benefits are secured for future generations. It would be wasteful and short-sighted if the Historical Railways Estate was allowed to convert £3 million of public money into concrete and pour it into a black hole.”

Just before Christmas, a Council official assured the Society that “Bradford Council will do everything within its means to explore various options to keep the Queensbury Tunnel open as long as, in doing so, it would not be detrimental to the Council.”

An ePetition (tiny.cc/QueensburyTunnel) asking for HRE’s abandonment plans to be suspended has now been signed by almost 7,000 people.

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To link to our latest campaign video 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" 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 10th January 2018

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Childhood adventurers revisit tunnel

Saturday 24 February 2018