Original Tunnel Workers Visit New Tyne Tunnel

Amongst the guests visiting the newest tunnel under the Tyne was Brenda Hutchinson, who worked in the drawings office of the design team for the original vehicle tunnel. Brenda said: “Women weren’t allowed into the tunnel when it was being built, as it was considered bad luck. We were only allowed as far as the decompression chamber, which was interesting, but it’s been fascinating to look behind the scenes at the new tunnel – and to be allowed all the way on to the site!”

At the north tunnel approach, from left to right (rear): Paul Fenwick (Project Director for the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority), Alistair Clarke, Roland Embleton, Nicolas Caille (Project Managing Director for Bouygues Travaux Publics), Daniel Clert (Construction Manager, Bouygues Travaux Publics). Left to right (front): Brenda Hutchinson, Mrs A. Clarke, Muriel Blythman, David Blythman, Peter Heenan.

At the north tunnel approach, from left to right (rear): Paul Fenwick (Project Director for the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority), Alistair Clarke, Roland Embleton, Nicolas Caille (Project Managing Director for Bouygues Travaux Publics), Daniel Clert (Construction Manager, Bouygues Travaux Publics).
Left to right (front): Brenda Hutchinson, Mrs A. Clarke, Muriel Blythman, David Blythman, Peter Heenan.

Peter Heenan was Lead Miner for five years during construction of the original tunnel, which opened in 1967, and remembers missing Christmas one year for the tunnel. Peter said: “I went into the tunnel one Christmas morning with a colleague to carry out a face inspection. About 400feet into the tunnel we could see water glistening ahead. We knew we had to get the water out, and away from the electrics, so we started trying to clear it. Because we were working under compressed air, we could only stay down there for ten minutes at a time before coming back to the surface. So the process took longer than expected. I was meant to collect my father for Christmas dinner that morning, but when we didn’t appear my wife thought I’d stopped off at the pub and stayed there all day! The tunnel really took over our lives.”

One of the other guests on the tour has been avidly following progress of the new Tyne Crossing project since its start, and regularly visits the project drop-in sessions to see the latest photos of works on the site. Alistair Clarke worked on the tunnel between 1965 and 1967 carrying out electrical works.

Mr. Clarke, who attended the tour with his wife, said: “It’s been an honour to be part of this tour, and to see up close the work that has taken place to build the new tunnel. You can’t fail to be impressed. The approach is one hundred per cent different to the way the first tunnel was built.”

Nicolas Caille, Project Managing Director for Bouygues Travaux Publics UK, the main design and build contractor of the new tunnel, escorted the special guests around the site. Nicolas said: “I’ve enjoyed listening to the tales about how the first tunnel was built. Comparing the challenges they faced with the ones we’ve tackled has been fascinating, and the completely different approach to things like health and safety has been incredible to hear about. They did things very differently in the 1960s.”

Paul Fenwick, Project Director for the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, said “It’s been a privilege to meet some of those involved in delivering the first vehicle tunnel. I’m glad that we’ve had the opportunity to bring them onto site and give them a sneak preview of the new tunnel before it’s commissioned for use.”

The new vehicle tunnel will become operational later this month, following almost three years of construction. The tunnel forms a key part of the £260M New Tyne Crossing project, which also includes the construction of new tolls plazas north of the Tyne, a restructured interchange south of the river, as well as the full refurbishment of the original vehicle tunnel, due to commence once traffic is diverted into the new tunnel. The refurbishment works are expected to take around ten months to complete, with both tunnels open to traffic by 2012.

Guests assemble in the tunnel, close to the Sprayed Concrete Lining section of tunnel beneath Jarrow.

Guests assemble in the tunnel, close to the Sprayed Concrete Lining section of tunnel beneath Jarrow.