Proposed West Yorkshire cycle tunnel would be longest in Europe

Derelict railway tunnel between Halifax and Bradford is over a mile-and-a-half long

by Elliot Johnston   January 25, 2014  

Queensbury Tunnel (Image CC licensed via geograph user philld)

An abandoned railway tunnel in West Yorkshire could soon be the longest underground cycleway in Europe if local groups and sustainable transport charity Sustrans are successful in their campaign.

If the Queensbury Tunnel project gets the green light it will replace the Combe Down Tunnel in Bath, a project which Sustrans also had a hand in, as the longest tunneled cycleway in Europe.

The plans would see the Halifax to Bradford tunnel, which has been blocked since the 1960s, become part of the Great Northern Trail network of traffic-free walking and cycling paths that have been built over the tracks of the old Great Northern Railway line.

The Highways Agency has control over the tunnel and have stated that they will carry out maintenance in the coming years.  But Sustrans and local campaigning groups want action as soon as possible, as fears grow that if work is not started on the urgent repairs that are needed soon, the Highways Agency may block the tunnel up for good.

Queensbury Community Heritage and Action Partnership (QCHAP) is pressing the matter with Bradford and Calderdale Councils to collaborate with the Highways Agency to make the project a reality before time runs out.

Norah McWilliam from QCHAP told the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford: “The big thing is we have people take this on. It could be quite urgent, because the tunnel does need repairing soon.

"If we leave things too long there is a danger the Highways Agency could just block this up. We’re just waiting to get some indication if the councils would support us now.

"We need people with clout to help push this forward. There is a lot of interest in this locally so I hope we can make this happen.”

The campaign groups will take inspiration from the success of the seven-year, £4 million, Two Tunnels project in Bath that was completed in April 2013.

The renovation of the Devonshire Tunnel and the Combe Down Tunnel created a four-mile, shared-use route that connects Bath with the Midford Valley along the trackbed of the former Somerset and Dorset Railway.

At the time of the Two Tunnels opening, chief executive of Sustrans, Malcolm Shepherd, hailed the transformation of the tunnels.

He said: “The Two Tunnels Greenway is a great example of how disused railway lines can be revived as vital transport links.

“Sustrans is delighted to have created Britain’s longest cycling tunnel – it will connect local communities and help people be more active as they get around.

“Across the country we need safer routes for walking and cycling and a fresh approach to public transport to make us less reliant on increasingly expensive car use.”

Bath’s successful connection of communities is something that group co-ordinator for the Great Northern Trail, Richard Kunz, wants to emulate in Yorkshire.

He said: “It is an exciting project. If it goes ahead it could provide an amazing link between Halifax, Bradford, Keighley and Queensbury.

"If a deal can be done to preserve the tunnel it will be unbelievable. It will be amazing to be able to cycle the full trail. If the public get behind this then it would really help things get done.

"Once it was open people would come from around the country to ride it. Since the one in Bath opened it has had loads of visitors. I hope the project will go ahead in the next year or so.”

Since its opening the Combe Down Tunnel in Bath has held the title of longest underground cycleway in Europe, which was previously held the 850m long San Sebastian Cycle Tunnel in Spain.

However, the longest cycle tunnel in the world is the Snoqualmie Tunnel in Washington State, America. The unlit tunnel is 2.3 miles long and opened in June 2011.

36 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

seven wrote:
SideBurn wrote:
I love the way Sustrans talk about these old lines being used as an alternative to the car. However after using a cycle-path to commute for a while, I am fed up with it...

I gave up on cycle paths because the ones round here are constantly littered with mud, storm debris, glass etc. That's when they're not half flooded. The dog walkers etc. are a minor nuisance compared to having to deal with a bottom bracket and drive train that's always covered in crud and constantly needing attention. The local council and Sustrans both seem to think it's perfectly acceptable. It's almost as if they think that, by choosing to cycle, we are somehow willing to give up modern road surfaces and return to some sort of agrarian transport system with communities linked by muddy farm tracks.

+many times over, the "NCN" around Surrey is a complete joke.

posted by northstar [936 posts]
25th January 2014 - 16:36

like this
Like (21)

That's nice that they want us underground in a tunnel smelling of piss. I think someone has just made my Christmas card list Big Grin

cidermart's picture

posted by cidermart [446 posts]
25th January 2014 - 17:28

like this
Like (12)

seven wrote:
It's almost as if they think that, by choosing to cycle, we are somehow willing to give up modern road surfaces and return to some sort of agrarian transport system with communities linked by muddy farm tracks.

It's especially interesting as Sustrans own website has a whole life cost comparison showing bitmac paths coming out substantially cheaper than the equivalent in unbound grit, once all the maintenance is included....

posted by CarlosFerreiro [42 posts]
25th January 2014 - 18:05

like this
Like (14)

I used the north downs way last weekend for the first time. It too is a disused railway line. It was a mud bath, narrow at points and negotiating dogs and horses needed extreme care. In no way was any of the route passable on anything other than a mountain bike. Basically it is in no shape or form anything other than a disjointed path which is no use for covering any distance on. I am seriously beginning to doubt the value of the work sustrans do which is a shame.

I won't even start on the UK end of the "avenue verte"

posted by arfa [357 posts]
25th January 2014 - 18:41

like this
Like (25)

arfa wrote:
I used the north downs way last weekend for the first time. It too is a disused railway line. It was a mud bath, narrow at points and negotiating dogs and horses needed extreme care. In no way was any of the route passable on anything other than a mountain bike. Basically it is in no shape or form anything other than a disjointed path which is no use for covering any distance on. I am seriously beginning to doubt the value of the work sustrans do which is a shame.

I won't even start on the UK end of the "avenue verte"

The North Downs Way isn't a sustrans cycling route. It is a long distance (walking) trail that happens to include some bridleway though surely?

Last I heard they were doing a feasibility study into creating a cycling route in the same corridor as the NDW but weren't planning to do much with the NDW itself.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [292 posts]
25th January 2014 - 19:18

like this
Like (13)

I stand corrected on the ndw !

posted by arfa [357 posts]
25th January 2014 - 19:42

like this
Like (17)

I use the Monsal trail In the Peak District now and again and it has several tunnels.

it's well used by families as it allows kids to ride in a traffic free environment and is very busy at the weekends with cyclists of all ages, most going at a sensible speed and not segment hunting.

it always amazes me the number of groups of ramblers that insist on walking the full width of the track in the tunnels and have no concept of sharing it with other users. I've no grouse about them being there - I also walk and run down it occasionally. It's just their bloody mindedness that gets me.

And don't get me started about the pillocks that don't have their dogs on a lead.......

Velotastic !

Too many hills, but too little time.

badback's picture

posted by badback [255 posts]
25th January 2014 - 20:01

like this
Like (11)

All these crappo 'bike routes' end up being are dog walking routes where they moan about cyclists 'terrorising' them before clambering back into 3 tonnes of range rover 'sport' and genuinely terrorise, kill and maim cyclists and pedestrians completely unchecked.

I just wish they'd stop paying lip service to cycling and actually use .5% of the annual road building budget, paid for by ALL OF US after all who pay income tax, and create a genuine cycling road just for cycling on that is actually useful.

Cars get the motorway exclusively, what do cyclists get exclusively? Squat. We just get gravel tracks littered with dogs and 'terrorised' walkers squeezed along useless sections of canals and grotty retail park loading areas that you can't train on. Use the road and you get massacred, use the path to escape the massacre for the briefest of moments and you get fined.

Why don't we campaign for a dedicated cycle roadway running alongside the HS2, which government will push through at some point, and at last be able to ride for miles in peace without having to worry about the constant threat of what's zooming up behind you.

It would add pennies on the grand scale of a project like that and some of it could be met by grants and lotto funding in each region it passes through. Little shops would open to cater for users and as a facility it would be amazing.

If just 10 miles of motorway budget were instead allocated to building a dedicated cycling roadway just how many miles would that be able to build?

Hating our selfish and ignorant car culture

posted by ironmancole [111 posts]
25th January 2014 - 23:57

like this
Like (21)
minnellium's picture

posted by minnellium [69 posts]
26th January 2014 - 8:50

like this
Like (15)

It's especially interesting as Sustrans own website has a whole life cost comparison showing bitmac paths coming out substantially cheaper than the equivalent in unbound grit, once all the maintenance is included....

not in the UK but same problems with shared used paths and locally a budget approved scheme linking a school, shops and a sports centre have been abandoned following those in favour of "quiet parks" - that is dog walkers that drive to the park - complaining non stop about fast commuting cyclists in adjacent parks - one proposed solution is to not seal the trails - leave them as gravel - this slows down cyclists - doesn't rain so much here in Aus' so less impact on drivetrain but creating a surface only suitable for leisure use is not sustainable transport

posted by antigee [106 posts]
26th January 2014 - 9:24

like this
Like (10)

Sustrans are heavily reliant on local authority partners to deliver their schemes. When you get a cycle path that's been rendered more or less unusable by things like those stupid squeeze gates, you can bet it's the local authority's doing, not the people who actually ride bikes.

Yes, the surface of a lot of the NCN is poor. That's because it's a work in progress, with sections getting improved as scarce funding becomes available. The attitude of some people towards what is arguably the UK's most effective pro-cycling charity beggars belief. It's a bit like loudly slagging off cancer charities because, after all that funding and campaigning, none of them have actually found a cure for cancer.

posted by Mr Agreeable [111 posts]
26th January 2014 - 10:37

like this
Like (20)

Well the NCN around the surrey hills is a complete mud bath / pot holed mess of dodgy signs, not even sure why it exists, what's wrong with the countless country lanes, oh yeah the mr and mrs toad want them for themselves too.

posted by northstar [936 posts]
26th January 2014 - 11:55

like this
Like (15)

To be clear, I have supported Sustrans in the past, but it's not clear (to me at least) what their near term goal is. Dirt track is fine if you are on a mountain bike but hopeless for everything else. I personally don't regard getting about on a heavy duty mountain bike as "sustainable transport" because it's too heavy

posted by arfa [357 posts]
26th January 2014 - 15:57

like this
Like (13)

Mr Agreeable wrote:

Yes, the surface of a lot of the NCN is poor. That's because it's a work in progress, with sections getting improved as scarce funding becomes available. The attitude of some people towards what is arguably the UK's most effective pro-cycling charity beggars belief.

If we use the flagship bristol and bath path as an example, nice surface the route makes perfect sense as a commuter route, But there is an issue with speed of cyclists.

Think about it, you have a route that is perfect for cycling and is it any surprise that cyclists, who are trying to get to and from work are not going to be bimbling along at walking pace.

The tunnel in this article, the first question i would ask, before anything else. What are they trying to achieve by opening this tunnel.

The problem with much of the NCN is that simply it doesn't go where people want to go by a remotely direct route, as a leisure route it is not really an issue but for transport, for commuting.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [857 posts]
26th January 2014 - 16:24

like this
Like (14)

northstar wrote:
Well the NCN around the surrey hills is a complete mud bath / pot holed mess of dodgy signs, not even sure why it exists, what's wrong with the countless country lanes, oh yeah the mr and mrs toad want them for themselves too.

The vast majority of the NCN in the Surrey Hills is on tarmac, on those countless country lanes, ime.

downslink is a notable exception to this being an old railway line aimed at leisure use only.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [292 posts]
26th January 2014 - 16:36

like this
Like (7)

When the NCN was put in around Sheffield it was mostly dirt track. Now, 14 years later most of it is tarmac. It is possible to get paths upgraded if you work with Sustrans and LA's rather than just carping at them.

wildnorthlands's picture

posted by wildnorthlands [23 posts]
26th January 2014 - 17:36

like this
Like (11)

"The attitude of some people towards what is arguably the UK's most effective pro-cycling charity beggars belief. It's a bit like loudly slagging off cancer charities because, after all that funding and campaigning, none of them have actually found a cure for cancer"
You are half way there here; how would you feel if you gave money to a 'cancer' charity and then found they had given huge sums to help cure 'asthma?' Great well done Sustrans, but why on their signage do they say "Cyclists make way to pedestrians" but not "Keep your dog under control" and "Clear up your dogs poo"? This makes me think that they are building footpaths that cyclists are just about tolerated on. What I am saying is call them what they actually are namely "Dog poo alleys"

posted by SideBurn [731 posts]
26th January 2014 - 21:03

like this
Like (10)

Regardless of where you think you should come in some notional hierarchy, they're getting cycle routes built, which is more than can be said for any other UK cycling organisation at this point in time.

The compromises that come with this are unfortunate and Sustrans know this as well as anyone, but until more of the UK wakes up to the benefits of cycle-only infrastructure, shared use routes are all we're going to get.

posted by Mr Agreeable [111 posts]
26th January 2014 - 21:25

like this
Like (10)

Mr Agreeable wrote:
but until more of the UK wakes up to the benefits of cycle-only infrastructure, shared use routes are all we're going to get.

Catch 22, if we don't use these routes, cyclists are being obstructive. If we do then they obviously fit the need.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [857 posts]
26th January 2014 - 21:43

like this
Like (7)

Mrmo, go on many Sustrans routes and you'll see people who simply wouldn't be cycling if they didn't exist. Young children and their parents being a particularly obvious example. If you told these people that they were endorsing intolerant drivers, or surrendering their right to use the road, they wouldn't have a clue what you were on about.

posted by Mr Agreeable [111 posts]
27th January 2014 - 9:22

like this
Like (7)

Mr Agreeable wrote:
Regardless of where you think you should come in some notional hierarchy, they're getting cycle routes built, which is more than can be said for any other UK cycling organisation at this point in time.

The compromises that come with this are unfortunate and Sustrans know this as well as anyone, but until more of the UK wakes up to the benefits of cycle-only infrastructure, shared use routes are all we're going to get.

But they are not cycle-routes; they are dog toilets. I would not recommend anyone to use them to ride a bike on regardless of their experience. I think you are more likely to have an accident on one, admittedly not run over by a car. I would rather see a cycling charity spending money making the roads better and safer. The Cycle Touring Club for example? The Campaign Against Drinking and Driving?

posted by SideBurn [731 posts]
27th January 2014 - 11:31

like this
Like (9)

How long have the ctc been around? and "we" are still waiting for dutch style bike paths?

How many more times do "we" need to bang our heads against various brick walls that won't listen, that includes all "authorities".

The issue is not going to go away no matter how much they'd like it too ; )

posted by northstar [936 posts]
27th January 2014 - 11:52

like this
Like (7)

'An abandoned railway tunnel in West Yorkshire could soon be the longest *legal* underground cycleway in Europe'

Hashtag I am just saying this.

posted by andyp [633 posts]
27th January 2014 - 12:17

like this
Like (14)

I gave up on cycle paths because the ones round here are constantly littered with mud, storm debris, glass etc.......The local council and Sustrans both seem to think it's perfectly acceptable.

If the route is managed by Sustrans then you could volunteer to be a Ranger in your area and help maintain the cycle paths

posted by RedfishUK [34 posts]
27th January 2014 - 12:33

like this
Like (8)

Mr Agreeable wrote:
Mrmo, go on many Sustrans routes and you'll see people who simply wouldn't be cycling if they didn't exist. Young children and their parents being a particularly obvious example. If you told these people that they were endorsing intolerant drivers, or surrendering their right to use the road, they wouldn't have a clue what you were on about.

To me that is a different market, you will always have families and leisure riders. Many of these tracks are perfect that group. However if we want people riding as part of life are these tracks the way forward? Are commuters willing to ride gravel tracks to get to work? Go for the Dutch idea of wearing normal clothing, is it compatible with muddy paths?

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [857 posts]
27th January 2014 - 13:16

like this
Like (7)

+1.

These paths help get people enjoying cycling. That has to be a good thing even it they don't meet all of the needs of frequent cyclists.

Also, moaning that "only a mountain bike" could use these paths is incorrect IMHO. A cyclocross bike is perfectly fine on these paths/surfaces (even on 25mm slicks in summer - I do it on my commute with Conti GP 4 Seasons. I use 35c Kenda small blocks in winter which roll alright on road) and they are great commuting bikes on tarmac too. If you want to keep the crud off your drivechain/teeth/shorts, fit some good full length mudguards.

Using a full-on road racing bike for a commute isn't always the best option.

Yes, the dogs can be a pain, but you know what? Lots of motorists think cyclists are a bit of a pain. If we were all a bit more tolerant of people who are doing something different to us, we'd all be happier. Use your bell, slow down when appropriate, and say thanks when people attempt to control their dog/kid/etc and IME you'll find it is usually a tolerable experience on most shared use Sustrans paths. Maybe think of the energy expended getting back up to speed as an extra training interval? Wink Also you can apply this mindset to the beginner/kiddy/leisure cyclists encountered at certain times of year/week on these paths too.

DaveE128's picture

posted by DaveE128 [25 posts]
27th January 2014 - 13:31

like this
Like (13)

For the leisure cyclist Sustrans has some nice off road pottering with kids type trails.

While they do talk about commuters no trail of theirs looks terribly useful for that, it's more for the funding for the project I suspect, one local to my folks they kept repeating that kids could ride to school and so on, even when pointed out the trail doesn't connect the villages up and the road to it are steep, any where from 7% to 17% average so the idea a child would use it or a commuter would chose is laughable.

Presently the most common bikes are MTB connecting interesting bits together which for most part they could do before.

posted by rogermerriman [14 posts]
27th January 2014 - 14:06

like this
Like (6)

RedfishUK wrote:

I gave up on cycle paths because the ones round here are constantly littered with mud, storm debris, glass etc.......The local council and Sustrans both seem to think it's perfectly acceptable.

If the route is managed by Sustrans then you could volunteer to be a Ranger in your area and help maintain the cycle paths

Yay; spend my spare time clearing up other peoples litter, dog mess and of course the parking areas that make perfect places to dump building rubble. And if you want to know about the contempt I have for others using the dog toilet I recently came across a group of children on, I assume, a school activity. One chap was stopped, so I stopped (like I would for any stationary cyclist). The accompanying adult said, "The pedals go round, it makes a noise but he does not go forward?" The chain had come off! And his saddle was pointing straight up; I re-positioned it but said you will need a 14mm spanner to stop this happening again. She just looked at me blankly... Nice to see everyone in helmets and hi-viz but no basic tools (I did have spanners, but none this size as I do not need them).
Nice to see, but what happens when these children come across an aggressive and out of control dog? Like I have not too far from where I met this group? Kids put off cycling for life; and then there is Toxocariasis http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Toxocariasis/Pages/Introduction.aspx
To be clear; I have no contempt for others, dog walkers, pedestrians or whatever. I take care, I have provided assistance for many people and have pleasant exchanges; I am even on first name terms with the alcoholic chap who lives on the trail! But as a cycle-path it is crap...

posted by SideBurn [731 posts]
27th January 2014 - 15:11

like this
Like (7)

Dave, don't get me wrong, I am not moaning, I am querying near term goals. Yes the paths get families on bikes (a good thing) but many are seasonal at best due to surfacing.
You mention that a CX bike could get along these surfaces (a challenge dare I say it in light of current conditions) and let's face it a CX bike is a fairly specialist non mainstream bike....
Anyway, my observation was based on riding the off road London Brighton route 2 weekends ago, where the track surface was very poor and covering 70 miles was just about doable in under 6 hours - not really a commutable average.
I appreciate sustrans are not responsible for a lot of it.

posted by arfa [357 posts]
27th January 2014 - 21:22

like this
Like (8)

I agree that the goals of Sustrans should be questioned. Leisure routes are great and, with a young family, I'm sure that I will make a good deal of use of these myself in the coming years. They don't, however, always offer a viable or attractive aternative to the roads for utility cyclists and this is what is required in order to get more people using bikes for everyday travel (as I understand it Sustrans' key aim).

In order to be a good alternative to the road, cycle routes need to be:
1. Safe - although removing vehicular traffic, routes such as this do pose increased risks, the most notable being the risk of assult or mugging.
2. Quick - the route needs to be at least as fast as using the road
3. Direct - the route needs to be shorter than the on-road alternative
4. Maintained - in the same way as the road these routes need to be kept free of obstructions and treated appropriotly in winter

The traffic free routes backed by Sustrans often fail in one or more of these areas and become an unattractive option for everyday commuting or utility cycling.

The B2B route is a great example. This route could be brilliant if it met the above criteria. The B2B should be the cyclists equivilent to the M4 - delivering people between the two cities quickly, efficiently and safely. Unfortunatly cycling at night on this route brings fears of 'fishing line' attacks, maintaining a good pace can be difficult to do safely (and you're likely to get stick for it) and, although I've never used it in winter, I'd hazard a guess that its not a good option on a snowy or icy day (prepared to be corrected on this point).

I would like to see Sustrans either change its name and stated philosophy to reflect what is evidently its real position: to encourage walking and cycling accross the board (not just for transport) or to insist that a set of criteria is established for transport routes that needs to be met for all new infrastrucure.

posted by Matt eaton [222 posts]
29th January 2014 - 19:03

like this
Like (7)