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Queensbury lines

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Title: Queensbury lines  
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Subject: Keighley railway station, Thornton viaduct, Great Northern Railway (Great Britain), A6177 road, Pickle Bridge Line
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Queensbury lines

The Queensbury Lines was the name given to a number of railway lines in West Yorkshire, England that linked Bradford, Halifax and Keighley via Queensbury. All the lines were either solely owned by the Great Northern Railway (GNR) or jointly between the GNR and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&YR). The lines opened piecemeal from 1879 and it was not until 1882 that a full service was available. Passenger services continued until 1955, most goods services continued until the 1960s and the final part of the line to close lasted until 1972. However goods trains continued to run until 1974 between Bradford Exchange and Horton Park railway stations.

The lines were marked with a number of major civil engineering works including several viaducts and tunnels. A feature of the line was the unusual station at Queensbury which until the latter part of the 20th century was one of only two stations in the United Kingdom that consisted of a triangular junction with platforms on all three lines forming the junction.


The earliest proposal was a line to link Halifax and Keighley but when Parliamentary approval was sought, permission was only given for a short (2.5 miles (4.0 km)) branch line from Halifax to Ovenden. The line was approved on 30 June 1864 with the passing of the Halifax and Ovenden Junction Railway Act (27 & 28 Vict. c.cxliii).[1] Construction of the line proved difficult and two more Acts of Parliament were required authorising variations before the line was completed. With the passing of the last of these acts, in 1870, the GNR and L&YR exercised their rights to take over the Halifax and Ovenden company and the resulting line was opened under the joint control of the two companies.[1]

In 1871 the Bradford and Thornton Railway Company was formed to construct a line between the two via Queensbury and the Bradford and Thornton Railway Act (34 & 35 Vict. c.clxix) was passed[2] but a year later the company was taken over by the GNR.[3]

The passing of the Bradford and Thornton Act led to renewed interest in the construction of the line between Keighley and Halifax with an extension to Huddersfield. After the Midland Railway declined to support the proposal the promoters turned to the GNR instead who, although declining to support the whole proposal did agree to sponsor a bill to extend the Halifax and Ovenden to Queensbury and to extend the Bradford and Thornton to Keighley. The powers to build these extensions were granted to the GNR in the Great Northern (Halifax, Thornton and Keighley Railways) Act 1873 (36 & 37 Vict. c.ccxx).[4]


The first line to be constructed was the first authorised, the Halifax and Ovenden. Almost immediately a major challenge was faced with the steep sided River Hebble valley to be crossed. A large viaduct of 840 yards (768.1 m) was built across the river to link Halifax with North Bridge. As well as the length an existing road bridge had to be elvated by 11 feet (3.4 m) and as this was densely populated area, a number of houses had to be demolished as well.[5]

Beyond North Bridge, a further viaduct and two tunnels had to be constructed before Ovenden was reached and goods traffic on this section of line commenced in 1874.[5]

The GNR let the contracts for the construction of the Bradford–Thornton line and the Ovenden–Queensbury line to the experienced contractors Benton and Woodiwiss, who had previously been one of the principal contractors for the construction of the Midland Railway's (MR) Settle-Carlisle Line. The area around Queensbury is hilly and the town itself is at an altitude of 1,150 feet (350.5 m) considerably higher than Bradford, Halifax or Keighley. The routes from all three locations would contain major engineering works. Work on the Bradford – Thornton line commenced in 1874 with a sod cutting ceremony at Thornton on 21 March.[5] The major works on the line were the 300 yards (274.3 m) Thornton viaduct, build in an S shape to follow the contours of the valley,[6] Clayton tunnel (1,057 yards (966.5 m) long) and a 950 yards (868.7 m) long, 62 feet (18.9 m) embankment and cutting at Pasture Lane, Clayton.[7] Goods traffic between Thornton and Bradford began in March 1878 and passenger services in October 1878.[7]

Connecting Holmfield to Queensbury involved two large constructions. Strines Cutting was 1,033 yards (944.6 m) long and 59 feet (18.0 m) deep and took several years to provide with adequate drainage.[5] Queensbury tunnel which ran under the town was 2,501 yards (2,286.9 m) long and 430 feet (131.1 m) beneath ground level at its deepest and took four years to complete.[5] At the time of its completion the tunnel was the longest on the GNR (and remained so until the Ponsbourne tunnel at Hertford opened in 1910).[5] and such was the height difference between Holmfield and Queensbury stations that the tunnel was on a continuous gradient of 1 in 100 (1% grade) falling towards Holmfield.[5]

Hewenden Viaduct

With the completed construction of the line between Holmfield and Queensbury the whole section from Bradford to Halifax was opened for goods traffic on 1 December 1879 and for passenger trains two weeks later.[6]

The extension from Thornton to Keighley began slowly as, in 1878, the GNR was having financial difficulties and have pared back all but essential works. In an attempt to reduce spending the GNR approached the Midland Railway (MR) with a view to selling the MR half of the ownership of the Holmfield–Keighley line. The MR declined the offer but did agree to granting the GNR running powers over the Worth Valley branch from a junction near Ingrow (West) to a rebuilt Keighley railway station.[8] The line required the construction of two major viaducts, the 343 yards (313.6 m) long Hewenden Viaduct and the shorter 144 yards (131.7 m) long Cullingworth Viaduct,[6] and the 1,533 yards (1,401.8 m) long Lees Moor Tunnel.[9] As well as being built with a prevailing falling gradient of 1 in 55 (1.81% grade) towards Keighley, the tunnel curved through almost 90 degrees making it unpopular with train crews.[10] Due to these challenges it was not until mid 1884 that the line was fully open throughout and November 1884 before passenger services commenced.[9]


Overall the line cost almost £1 million to build and never really paid for itself.[11] Although a reasonably frequent service was provide between the three destinations with connections, where necessary, at Queensbury, passenger numbers started to decline as early as 1901 when tram services between Bradford–Queensbury and Halifax–Queensbury began. The First World War brought further reductions including the closure, to passengers, of Manchester Road. Post war more frequent bus services hit passenger numbers even more and in 1938 all Sunday services were withdrawn.[11]

Decline and closure

After the [13] The opponents of closure tried on several occasions to find out why the services were to be withdrawn and a series of contradictory answers were given. Initially the reason given was the economic savings to be made. Then in May 1955 the response became that closure was due to engineering difficulties. the closure opponents then asked why diesel trains could not be used, to be told that there was 'no potential'. A week later, they were asked again why diesel units could not be used, this time they claimed that the gradients were too steep. Finally on the day the last scheduled services ran British Railways were then asked again why diesel units could not be used. And for the third time in so many requests a different answer was given - We could simply not been able to get hold of sufficient diesels.[14]

Supporters of the line continued their campaign even after withdrawal of the passenger services but received a setback when Halifax council decided that they would not be taking any action against the closure, despite a large petition in favour. In August 1955, three months after closure, a committee was formed to try to get the lines reopened to the public. In November a re-hearing was applied for, which happened on 16 December. However, Hugh Molson the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport at the time said the closure had been 'Abundantly justified'[15] and that there was no way of referring the case back to the Transport Users Consultative Committee. He claimed that almost £50,000 had been saved in the closure, and that an average of less than three passengers had joined or alighted at each of the eleven stations and made it clear that there was little or no chance of the service reopening.[16] Excursion trains continued to use the lines until the run down of goods traffic and the total closure of the lines commenced

Goods services continued until 1960 when the goods yards on the North Bridge–Queensbury section closed to be followed by the stations between Ingrow and Great Horton between 1963 and 1965.[17] Keighley goods yard closed in 1965 leaving just Horton Park and North Bridge open into the 1970s; Horton Park closed in 1972 and North Bridge in 1974 to complete the closure of the entire system.[17]

Associated lines

City Road branch

This line was proposed in 1875 by the West Riding and Lancashire Railway as part of an ambitious scheme to link the MR from Shipley and the LYR near Huddersfield via Queensbury and Holmfield. The railway never received Parliamentary approval and only a 1.25 miles (2.01 km) goods only line from a junction just before Horton Park station running to a large goods yard at City Road was opened by the GNR in 1876. The line remained open until 1972 when it closed at the same time as the section of line between Horton Park and St Dunstans.[18]

Halifax High Level Railway

Another independent line sanctioned in 1884 to run 3.2 miles (5.15 km) from Holmfield to St Paul's in Halifax by the Halifax High Level & North & South Junction Railway.[19] Originally planned to link with a line form Huddersfield this proposal was abandoned in 1887 and the line was built between 1888 and 1892.[20] In 1894 the Halifax High Level Railway was jointly vested between the GNR and the LYR.[19] The terminus of the line, Halifax (St Pauls) was only 1.25 miles (2.01 km) from the main station in Halifax but was 325 feet (99.1 m)[19] higher meaning that a train journey between the two required changing trains at Holmfield and an overall journey of 5 miles (8.0 km) taking at least 30 minutes.[20] This inconvenience led to the early withdrawal of passenger services over the branch in 1917 but the line remained open for goods

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