A report that led to the decision to close a disused rail tunnel, rather than turn it into a subterranean cycle route, overestimated renovation costs route by more than £30m, a new report claims, as campaigners battle to save the tunnel from being filled in.
A report, produced by Jacobs Engineering this year, put the cost of renovating the 1.4 mile long Queensbury Tunnel in West Yorkshire at £35m. However, a second analysis of the tunnel’s structure, commissioned by the group trying to save the tunnel, revealed fallen bricks, leaks and bulging walls could be repaired, and the tunnel made safe as a cycling and walking route, for just £2.8m.
The tunnel is currently being prepared for abandonment, at a cost of £3m, by the Historical Railways Estate (HRE), who commissioned the original report and presented it to former Transport minister, Robert Goodwill, who then decided renovation was too expensive. Supporters of the cycle route are calling for a halt on the abandonment process until a further review is conducted.
Graeme Bickerdike, who co-ordinated the engineering study on behalf of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, and is a writer, editor and producer specialising in railway structures, said: “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.”
The Society says it visited the Tunnel on 22 June under the supervision of Hammonds ECS, HRE’s contractor, and the Mines Rescue Service. They also brought “an experienced civil engineer specialising in tunnel remediation and tunnel maintenance strategy, both for railway and utility companies”, and two representatives from SES Group, a civil engineering and railway contractor with a background in mining. The company repaired collapses in a disused railway tunnel under Liverpool in 2012 and in North Yorkshire, on the Grinkle Beck culvert.
Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, 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.”
The tunnel has “the highest risk profile of any in HRE’s portfolio of 3,200 disused railway structures” because of its deteriorating condition due to flooding, as well as access difficulties and proximity of homes to four of its construction shafts.
The report proposes, among other things, to spray damaged (spalled) bricks with fibre reinforced spray concrete on around 10 per cent of the tunnel’s length, as well as inserting supports where brickwork has bulged, steel arches, and ring dams to hold back water.
The Society believes the tunnel does not need to be perfect to open as a cycle route, only safe.