AN organisation fighting to save Queensbury Tunnel from closure say the 10 men who died during its construction would "turn in their graves" if the historic structure is abandoned.

The Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS) has spoken out as this Sunday marks the 140th anniversary of the tunnel being opened by the Great Northern Railway when it became the 11th longest tunnel on the country's rail network.

It took more than four years to complete - double the period specified in the contract - mostly as a result of water inundating the workings. Around 250,000 tonnes of rock were excavated and removed by 600 men, assisted by explosives, hand tools, 14 horses, a collection of steam engines and their great strength of character. Six million bricks were manufactured, brought to site and laid to form the tunnel’s lining.

Graeme Bickerdike, Engineering Co-ordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “The works attracted a lot of attention through the mid-1870s. At the end of their shifts, local mill workers would gather at the shafts to watch the goings-on. Several months before it was finished, a newspaper reporter walked through the tunnel and announced that ‘The pyramids of Egypt sink into insignificance compared with such a work’."

The line between Holmfield, in neighbouring Calderdale, and Queensbury which passed through the tunnel closed in May 1956. In the 1970s, the tunnel served as a seismological station, visited by scientists from Cambridge University who slept in a hut close to its midpoint. Highways England, which manages Queensbury Tunnel for the Department for Transport, is now proposing to infill the tunnel and seal its entrances in a £3.6 million scheme. An alternative vision, put forward by QTS, is for the money to be invested in a repair programme, allowing the tunnel to become part of an ambitious cycle network connecting Halifax to Bradford and Keighley. An engineering study commissioned by Bradford Council is expected to be completed soon.

QTS leader Norah McWilliam said: “We’ve moved on since the 1950s. Only this week, scientists have set out the disastrous consequences our actions are having on the planet. We have to change our ways before it’s too late. That means a better diet, more exercise and less reliance on fossil fuels. Queensbury Tunnel is an asset with the potential to make a positive social and economic difference for the people who live in this part of Yorkshire. It could inspire, transform and become a beacon for sustainable transport.

“We need to spend money wisely on infrastructure, not flush it down the drain. The ten men who lost their lives during the construction of Queensbury Tunnel will turn in their graves if we allow their endeavours to be destroyed by a public body which seems culturally incapable of seeing value in the magnificent structures they look after.”

The Society intends to erect a cross in memorial to the ten men close to the tunnel’s northern entrance.