Campaigners in West Yorkshire who want to turn part of a disused railway tunnel into Europe’s longest cycling tunnel have accused Highways England of over-reaction in announcing emergency safety works following recent heavy rain in the area.
The 1.4-mile long Queensbury Tunnel near Bradford, which was closed more than 60 years ago, is managed by Highways England on behalf of the Department for Transport, which today announced that it was using emergency planning powers to carry out urgent safety work on it due to fears that part of the structure could collapse.
Graeme Bickerdike, engineering co-ordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society which has been campaigning to reopen the tunnel for cyclists and walkers, described the agency’s action as “the engineering equivalent of knocking your house down because a hole has formed in the guttering.”
Announcing the urgent works this morning, Richard Marshall, Highways England Yorkshire and North East Regional Director, commented: “Today’s emergency measures to stabilise one of the air shafts in the tunnel follows an influx of water over the last weekend of September.
"The volume of water entering the tunnel from the southern opening not only endangered the safety of our workforce but also caused the first phase of our safety work to be halted.
“We had been clear that the first phase of the safety work wouldn’t prevent the tunnel’s future reopening. However, the infilling of the shaft in this manner means that any reopening is now going to be more challenging.
“We are aware that this news will be a disappointment to those seeking the reopening of the tunnel, however we have no option other than to complete this work immediately to ensure both the safety of those communities living close by and the workforce who need to maintain it.”
The tunnel, which was built in the 1870s, was closed in the 1950s along with the railway line it formed part of. Since 2015, maintenance of the structure has been the responsibility for its maintenance.
Last month, engineers undertook a close inspection underneath the tunnel’s shaft two, but had to withdraw, leaving behind equipment, due to rising water which came close to the highest recorded levels.
Highways England insists that flooding in the tunnel means that contractors cannot continue with the inspection or associated strengthening works for now, with emergency works due to last a fortnight, after which it will consider how to proceed in resuming works.
Mr Bickerdike acknowledged there were some issues needing attention in the tunnel but maintained that Highways England was exaggerating the problem.
“There’s been an issue close to No.2 shaft for many decades, as evidenced by the longstanding brickwork repair within a sidewall that’s otherwise stone-built,” he said.
“A trackworker refuge 5 metres from the shaft started to fail about ten years ago. Some of the masonry has since collapsed and a bulge has formed, but there’s currently nothing to suggest that this is affecting the ability of the tunnel lining to transfer load from the shaft into the ground.
“Immediately below the shaft, there are no signs of distress and the tunnel’s profile has changed little since construction,” he continued.
“The upper part of the shaft lining is supported independently off a rock ledge about 38 metres (125 feet) below ground level. Beneath this point there’s 3.5 metres (11 feet) of exposed competent rock where no brick lining was needed. So, even in the unlikely event of a tunnel lining failure and subsequent shaft collapse, it’s very unlikely there’d be any effect at the surface.
“Although there is a farm access track close to the shaft, the nearest property is 150 metres away,” he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.