A derelict railway tunnel in Queensbury, blocked for decades, could soon become one of the longest underground cycleways in Europe, and link Halifax to Bradford.
Built in the 1880s, the tunnel was part of the Great Northern Railway line that linked Queensbury, Keighley and Bradford. When the line shut in the 1960s the tunnel, over a mile and a half long, was closed.
Since 2005, large stretches of the rail line has become a traffic free cycle and pedestrian route - The Great Northern Trail, allowing people to enjoy the journey that takes in Queensbury, Thornton, Denholme and Cullingworth. But the tunnel has caused a break in the route that local groups and sustainable transport group Sustrans have been trying to fix.
Although a huge undertaking, all those involved in promoting the trail can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and want more voices to join them in calling for the tunnel’s restoration.
The Highways Agency is responsible for the tunnel and confirmed it will carry out maintenance work in the coming years.
Now there is a push for this maintenance to include a cycleway that could attract cyclists and ramblers from around the country.
Last year Sustrans completed a similar project in Bath. Only slightly longer than the Queensbury tunnel it is now the longest underground cycle tunnel in Europe.
Supporters believe that the tunnel would not only boost the trail, but become an attraction in itself. With a generation of youngsters soon to be inspired by the Tour De France passing by their homes and schools, the tunnel could be an even further boost to local cycling, as well as helping increase visitors to villages like Denholme, Thornton and Cullingworth.
Norah McWilliam from Queensbury Community Heritage and Action Partnership is pushing for Bradford and Calderdale Councils to now get more involved in making the cycleway a reality.
She said: “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.”
Local MP Gerry Sutcliffe spoke with Mrs McWilliam yesterday (Friday) and over the next few days he hopes to galvanise members of Bradford and Calderdale Councils to make sure the plan becomes a reality. He said the Highways Agency has a £3.5 million fund to maintain the tunnel.
He said: “The tunnel being re-opened would help to re-invigorate Queensbury. The issue would be that it would need cross council support from Bradford and Calderdale but I’m happy to support this. I think it will be really good for Bradford.”
Mr Sutcliffe has already arranged a meeting with Bradford Council Leader Dave Green to discuss the issue.
Dave Stevens from Sustrans, said: “If we wanted to build a high quality cycleway from Bradford to Halifax, the best route is to re-open the old railway tunnel. We are keen to be a partner in delivering this. We can point to the recently re-opened tunnels in Dewsbury and Bath as how these schemes can be a success.”
Richard Kunz, group co-ordinator for the Great Northern Trail, 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. One 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.”
He feels that having the tunnel regularly used and well lit would dissuade crime, and greatly improve the appearance of the area.
In Bath, the Two Tunnels cycleway opened in April last year, and has proved a success with cyclists.
Costing £4 million, and running for over a mile from Bath to Midford, the project saw the tunnels re-opened 50 years after they were originally closed.
After a seven year project to have the bricked up Devonshire and Combe Down tunnels re-opened, Sustrans provided a refurbished underground cycleway with interactive light and sound installations. Cyclists have described it as a “unique sensory experience.” It opened with a 2,000 person cycle ride.
With lights placed every seven metres, the tunnel provides a safe and pleasant environment despite getting no natural light for much of the stretch.