Work on Burdale tunnel started at the Southern end in 1847, and just under a mile in length is the only major engineering feature on the line. Initially, it was only meant to be 1694 yards long. This was shortened to 1606 yards to save money, but required a sharper climb. In 1853 the engineer announced it was necessary to lengthen the tunnel to 1744 yards. Even this length has been questioned and debated by both the NER and LNER!
In 1845 it was anticipated that the tunnel would be through dry chalk; in the event 2/3rds of it where through severely unstable shale.
As the company building the railway quickly ran into financial difficulty, work was suspended on tunnel construction the moment it was up to a standard that prevented flooding.
Work on the tunnel restarted in mid 1850 when its length was no more than 460 yards, built by a workforce of 350 men.
To save costs, initial ideas to construct a double track for the full length of the line where quickly shelved. By this point however, tunnel construction had already commenced. This meant that the Southern end was constructed as an elaborate (and huge) double track portal with magnificent stone work. The width for double track continues for around 30 yards. The northern end is of a much plainer (although practical) red brick construction and built only for single track.
In early 1851, 495 yards of tunnel where completed with a further 1111 yards to go, by August 1851 another 243 yards had been completed. 7 9ft diameter shafts where initially built to aid in construction. At completion, four were backfilled, leaving three for full time ventilation shafts.
The entire tunnel was dogged by construction issues mainly due to water, and this put considerably strain on the finances on the railway. Flooding and landslips where commonplace, and even today, the entire area around the Wharram end is totally waterlogged.
By 1852 1030 yards of the tunnel were reported as completed with 1/3 left to go. The tunnel was eventually completed in 1853.
Soon after closure, several stories exist of people driving, biking and even walking through the tunnel. There are even stories of tiddlywinks being played half way through. The game being lit by the headlights of cars. To prevent this kind of activity the tunnel was bricked up at both ends to prevent people entering in July 1961.
Around 1978, a roof collapse around 1/2 a mile from the tunnels seconds ventilation shaft completely blocked the bore. Another roof fall around the mid 80’s from the Southern side has created a sealed section in the middle.
Our thanks to Nick Catford of the excellent Disused Stations website for permission to reproduce this information. Also to Warwick Burton for allowing parts of his book “The Malton & Driffield Junction Railway” to be used. Please support our exciting project by purchasing this excellent book here.