Soothill Tunnel

(Photos 3, 6-8 © John Simmonds)

Authorised by an Act of 1881, the Great Northern's 4¾-mile connection between Batley and Beeston Junction, on the Leeds branch of the East Coast Main Line, opened for goods traffic in July 1890, with passenger services inaugurated a month later.

In civil engineering terms, the route's ten underbridges and single five-arch viaduct were overshadowed by Soothill Tunnel, sometimes referred to as Woodkirk Tunnel. This incorporates a curve of 30 chains radius extending inwards from the west end for about 400 yards, before a straight section takes over to reach the east portal. Near their junction is the tunnel's only ventilation shaft. 659 yards in length, a stiff gradient of 1:50 is encountered throughout, climbing towards the east.

The portals are substantial and attractive, built from stone and with buttresses either side of the entrance. Above a string course, the parapet rises to a central point. Unlike other GN tunnels, the voussoirs are flat, not rounded. Access to the west end is made easier by a set of steps at the north side of the approach cutting.

Inside, the lining comprises a semicircular brick arch supported by vertical stone side walls. These incorporate refuges. Appearances suggest that the shaft was originally lined in masonry but this has been mostly replaced with red brick. At its base are large voussoirs.

Water ingress caused difficulties during the tunnel's period of operation and the resulting deterioration proved instrumental in driving the line's demise, the necessary repair work having a prohibitively expensive price tag. Passenger services were withdrawn in October 1951; the section from Batley to Woodkirk - through the tunnel - suffered complete closure on 6th July 1953. Freight between the Woodkirk quarries and Tingley continued until June 1964.

Land above and to the north of the bore was used for landfill in the 1970/80s. In the Nineties, engineers discovered that the plant and machinery used to move the waste had caused cracks to form in the lining. The portals, which had previously been open, were secured on health and safety grounds. Although the area has since been landscaped, polluted liquids still permeate the tunnel, giving rise to noxious gases. Infrastructure, in the form of pipes, ducts, cables and tanks, has been installed in an effort to manage this; there is an associated building at the western entrance which forms part of the access arrangements.

Structurally the tunnel appears to be in fair condition but, as a result of the gases and 'thick' atmosphere, you are strongly advised not to enter.

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