Plans are being developed for a programme of investigations to gain deeper insight into the condition of Queensbury Tunnel which campaigners hope to reopen as part of a cycle path network.
Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate (HRE) - which acts as custodian of the disused railway tunnel on behalf of the Department for Transport - could begin work to abandon the 1.4-mile long structure next summer.
This will involve infilling critical parts of it with concrete in a project likely to cost around £3 million and the funding will come from the taxpayer campaigners say.
For the cycle path proposal to go ahead, ownership would have to be taken on by Bradford Council, with the £3 million also being transferred as a dowry to cover future maintenance work.
The new investigations will be funded by HRE and their cost deducted from the £3 million dowry in the event of a transfer going ahead.
However, to ensure their independence, the scope of works will be defined by Bradford Council who will also appoint a suitably experienced company to undertake them.
Progress will be made over the coming months. Based on the findings, the Council will formulate its final position on the tunnel’s future.
Graeme Bickerdike, who co-ordinates the Queensbury Tunnel Society’s engineering activities, said: “Until now, the repair proposals and costings have relied on previously available technical evidence, visual inspections and informed judgement as to how defects might develop over time.
"We anticipate the upcoming work will involve a tactile examination of the tunnel’s lining and intrusive investigations to understand the loads being applied to it. This should reveal a sharper picture of the necessary repairs and associated costs, enabling the Council to reach a robust, informed and confident decision.”
Meanwhile, the Society has published a three-minute film capturing its aspiration for an ambitious cycle path network linking Bradford, Halifax and Keighley, with the tunnel as its centrepiece.
Set to music, it shows walkers and cyclists on the two sections of the Great Northern Railway Trail between Cullingworth and Queensbury, which could be joined and extended to improve connectivity for commuters and attract more visitors to the area.
A recent study by Sustrans suggested that, over 30 years, such a network could drive a £37.6 million economic uplift. Queensbury Tunnel alone would contribute around £10 million to that figure through increased tourism. If the tunnel was repaired for £2.8 million, a high benefit-to-cost ratio of 3.2:1 could be achieved.
Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “It’s an inspiring film which clearly demonstrates that our horizons extend far beyond the tunnel. We are promoting a bold and positive vision for cycling, linking communities to the west of Bradford just as the Great Northern Railway did. Despite being disused for more than 50 years, its trackbed and structures are mostly still there - etched into the landscape - as potential assets for reuse.
“As we move towards more active forms of travel and tackle our dependency on fossil fuels, high quality infrastructure will have to be provided to encourage people off the roads. As we know, cars and bikes don’t mix safely.
“Whilst our immediate focus has to be on the tunnel given the ongoing threat to its survival, we recognise that it doesn’t have a sustainable future without the cycle path. So we will continue to build public and political support for a bigger, better Great Northern Railway Trail, working alongside other groups who share that goal. There’s too much at stake for us to allow timidity and short-sightedness to succeed by default.”