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DfT could close former rail tunnel permanently this summer but campaigners say for same money a cycle route could be built

Campaigners who are fighting to create what would be Europe’s longest cycling tunnel on a disused railway line in West Yorkshire are stepping up their efforts as we head into the New Year to prevent it being permanently closed this summer by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The Queensbury Tunnel Society says that the tunnel could be converted to a bike route for 2.8 million, slightly less than the £3 million the DfT plans to spend on filling in parts of the tunnel with concrete to make it impassable, the tunnel could be converted to a bike route.

The society’s figure comes from a report commissioned by it last year from a firm of specialist engineers who set out a  proposed 44-week schedule of works.

But a 2016 report conducted for Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE), which is custodian on behalf of the DFt of the 1.4-mile tunnel, closed in 1965, said it would cost £35 million to turn the tunnel, which has five ventilation shafts, into a cycle route.

For its part, the Queensbury Tunnel Society has highlighted a Sustrans report which says that incorporating the tunnel into a cycling network linking Bradford, Halifax and Keighley, could provide benefits of £37.6 million in economic, health and tourism terms over the next three decades.

In September, the society produced a short video highlighting the Great Northern Railway Trail, showing cyclists and walkers on the sections of that route which could be linked via the tunnel, and called on Bradford Council to support the project.

Graeme Bickerdike, co-ordinator of engineering activities for the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said at that time: “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.”

The Two Tunnels Greenway in Bath and Monsal Trail in the Peak District are two examples of popular cycle routes incorporating former railway tunnels, while last year the Rhondda Tunnel Society obtained a £90,975 grant to examine a tunnel it is looking to preserve in South Wales.

Last August, the Queensbury Tunnel Society released another video showing a virtual ride through the tunnel once renovated – incuding a water-powered art installation and other features.

With 2018 being a crucial year for the tunnel’s future, an article published yesterday by Guardian North of England editor Helen Pidd has garnered hundreds of comments on the newspaper’s website.

In a Facebook post, the society described the comments as “Mostly positive, some negative, some bonkers, some missing the point. That's to be expected.

“But the key here is to stimulate debate on the value of an asset which, without intervention, will soon be consumed by £3m of publicly-funded concrete. Or, for a similar investment, it could help to generate £37.6m in economic benefits over 30 years as part of an ambitious cycle network.

“Anyone need help choosing the right option?

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.