The Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels closed for refurbishment in 2013, and are now due to reopen in early 2019.
In this blog, Jonah Morris, our Partnerships Manager North East and Cumbria, shares with us some of the history and what people can expect to see once the tunnels are reopened to the public.
With the works close to completion, a return of two important National Cycle Network routes is imminent.
The tunnels connect the two banks of the river Tyne, Howdon on the north bank and Jarrow on the south bank. The tunnels were built in 1951 as Tyneside’s contribution to the Festival of Britain, costing £833,000 (over £25m in today’s money). Originally built to carry shipyard and factory workers to their jobs, they were used by 20,000 people a month before their closure.
The two tunnels - one for pedestrians and one for cyclists - are 900 feet long and are 40 feet below the river bed. They contain the first purpose-built cycle tunnel in the UK and were the earliest to be used by both cyclists and pedestrians.
The National Cycle Network and The Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels
The tunnels carry four National Cycle Network routes; Route 1, the North Sea Cycle Route (part of Eurovelo 12), Route 72 and Hadrian’s Cycleway. When the tunnels closed, these routes diverted to using the Tyne Ferry which runs between North Shields and South Shields. It is planned that when the tunnels reopen, both the tunnel and ferry will carry the National Cycle Network routes across the river.
Work on the tunnels
The tunnels have been beset by delays since closing in May 2013. Contractors have pulled out after going bust and the North East Combined Authority has had to step in to complete the work.
As the entire structure is Grade II listed, great care has been taken to ensure like-for-like replacements where possible. The tiled tunnel has had to have sections removed and replaced - this is tiling on a scale you’ve never seen before.
There have been 28,000 ceramic tiles replaced. Along with 1,250m2 of Formica panels and 1,900m of aluminium trims fitted.
Over 3,500 paving flags have been lifted and relaid including 1,978 new paving flags being manufactured.
What to expect when the tunnels reopen
Once inside the impressive rotunda entrances, people using the tunnels will descend levels in a sealed glass elevator. The original wooden-step escalators will remain intact alongside the elevator. At the time of construction, they were the longest single-rise escalators in the world, and are believed still to be the longest wooden-step escalators in Europe. These original escalators will no longer function but will stand as a reminder of the engineering ingenuity of the original design.
The reopening of this architectural masterpiece will once again allow people to ride and walk underneath the river bed, creating an alternative route to the ferry.
I recently attended a site visit with a group of local school children. We were given a tour of the completed cyclists’ tunnel. For anyone who remembers cycling or walking through the tunnels, it would appear that not much has changed. The crown of the tunnels now includes trunking to carry all the new cabling, CCTV, lights, and PA equipment. The rotundas on either end have been updated and improved.
This all makes for an exciting reopening of these marvellous structures, making it easier for people cycling and walking to explore both banks of the River Tyne.