Campaigners are growing concerned over the condition of a railway tunnel between Halifax and Bradford.
The 1.4-mile long Queensbury Tunnel is the focus of an ongoing campaign to reopen it as part of a cycle network linking Bradford and Keighley to Halifax.
READ MORE: Safety work to start on Queensbury Tunnel
However Highways England’s Historical Railway Estate (HRE), which manages the tunnel for the Department for Transport, intends to permanently close it at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of £3.6 million.
According to the Queensburt Tunnel Society a recent report into coal mining risks by Jacobs, HRE’s consulting engineers, shows that only short sections of the tunnel would be infilled as part of the proposed abandonment scheme, amounting to about 15% of its total length.
They say the remainder - mostly passing beneath the populated part of Queensbury - would be left to collapse, including a 300-metre long section where the lining is already failing.
Graeme Bickerdike, Engineering Co-ordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “If reopening the tunnel as a cycle path proves not to be viable, there are two reasonable options for its future management. HRE could undertake a basic repair programme to stabilise the higher-risk areas and then continue with a regime of inspection and maintenance.
"This has not even been considered. Alternatively, the section under the village could be infilled. Instead HRE intends to progress a third option - abandonment on the cheap: seal both ends, walk away, cross their fingers. Lengthy sections will be left unfilled, with no access available to see what’s happening in them.”
Councillor Andrew Senior, who represents Queensbury ward, said: “Several times this year, HRE has told us that the tunnel presents a threat to the community and action now needs to be taken. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the only real threat to the community comes from HRE.
“In this day and age, it is not appropriate for a government-owned company to wash its hands of the tunnel in a way that leaves uncertainty for those who live above it. We know from past experience that cutting corners to save money can come at a high price.
“This is not just a technical exercise whereby experts decide whether thresholds have been met; there is also the question of public confidence. Why should we believe HRE when they’ve already proved themselves unable to effectively assess the risks presented by Queensbury Tunnel?”
It’s understood that provisional abandonment plans, sent to Bradford Council in May, were subsequently costed at £7 million by HRE’s contractor, more than double the original estimate. Since then, engineers have been working to develop a lower-cost scheme which is expected to be submitted for planning permission in the coming weeks.
A spokesperson for Highways England said:“The safety of the community is paramount and the Department for Transport, the owners of the tunnel, agree that safety work to reduce the risk to the community around Queensbury Tunnel should be undertaken as soon as possible. Phase 1 of the proposed work has started and involves partial strengthening of the most vulnerable areas of the tunnel which will also provide a safe working area throughout the tunnel for any future work undertaken.
“We are working closely with Bradford Council on the preparation of the planning application for Phase 2 of our safety work. Further liaison with the Coal Authority will provide greater understanding in respect of any impact of the proposed work in Phase 2 with potential unrecorded mine workings. This will ensure that our plans are subject to the necessary scrutiny by both the Council’s planning and technical teams and statutory consultees. It is not expected that a final decision on the application will now be reached until spring 2019.
“We understand that Bradford Council is still considering a potential transfer of the tunnel so that it could be re-opened and used as a local sustainable transport corridor. Any such transfer could be quickly achieved.”