Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Alpine Route

Queensbury Tunnel, West Yorkshire (1979)

Anyone who’s visited the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway will be familiar with Keighley railway station, where main-line trains between Leeds, Skipton and beyond connect with the Oxenhope branch that is now the heritage railway.

Keighley branch platforms used to serve another route, spectacular to ride and difficult to operate, known formally as the Great Northern Railway’s Queensbury lines and unofficially as the “Alpine Route” for its steep gradients, sharp curves and heavy engineering works, a Y-shaped system connecting Bradford, Halifax and Keighley.

Opened in stages between 1874 and 1884, the junction between the three routes lay in the valley bottom at Queensbury, a highly unusual six-platform triangular station.  The only other true triangular station in Britain was at Ambergate, Derbyshire.

The village of Queensbury, home of the famous Black Dyke Mills, was four hundred feet higher, accessible only by a dimly-lit footpath.  By 1901 Queensbury had electric tram services to Bradford and Halifax, so most of the rail passengers used the station simply to change from one train to another.

Queensbury station has, sadly, been obliterated, but its location is the starting point for the Great Northern Railway Trail, which Sustrans and Bradford City Council have developed, firstly between Cullingworth and Wilsden in 2005, and then a separate section between Thornton and Queensbury between 2008 and 2012: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/files/Great%20North%20Trail%202012.pdf.

The long-term aim is to provide a trail along much of the original rail routes between Bradford, Halifax and Keighley, but there is an immediate problem which needs an imminent solution.

Immediately south of Queensbury station, the line to Halifax ran through Queensbury Tunnel, 2,501 yards long, which has a constant gradient of 1 in 100, so that the north portal is seventy feet higher than the southern one.

After the track was lifted in the early 1960s, the Strines cutting to the south of the tunnel was sold as a landfill site, without adequate drainage, so that the run-off from within the notoriously wet tunnel backed up to a depth of thirty-five feet in the cutting, flooding the graded bore to almost half its length.

This accumulated water was pumped out in 2016 to enable a detailed engineering inspection, which found that though the tunnel had inevitably deteriorated and the brick lining had collapsed in two locations the tunnel itself was safe and capable of restoration.  (The lining doesn’t actually hold the rock tunnel up;  its function was to prevent loose rock falling on to the track or, worse, passing trains.)

The Queensbury Tunnel Society has mounted an energetic campaign, supported by Bradford City Council, to reopen the tunnel as a lit, paved cycle-way, using resources that the current owner, Historical Railways Estate (HRE), part of Highways England, had allocated for a short-sighted scheme to infill the bore.  Infilling for 150 metres at each end and capping the ventilation shafts was estimated to cost £5.1 million;  a cheaper scheme filling only 20 metres at each end would cost around £3 million.

The Queensbury Tunnel Society’s estimate for remediation to Network Rail standards would cost £3.3 million, and the installation of a cycle path and lighting would cost a further £1.5 million. The Society argues that taxpayers’ money would be better used for a scheme which delivers social and economic benefits, rather than one which renders the empty tunnel permanently unusable.

Detailed accounts of this controversy can be found on the Society’s website [http://www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/index.shtml] and at https://www.railengineer.uk/2018/07/12/securing-a-future-for-one-of-englands-longest-disused-railway-tunnels.