The Tyne Tunnels are celebrating 50 years since the Royal opening of the first vehicle tunnel on 19th October 1967.
The Tunnels are a feat of engineering and infrastructure, allowing vehicles to cross under the River Tyne, and providing a link between North Yorkshire and Northumberland. The first tunnel, now the northbound tunnel, is 1650 metres long and more than 30 metres below the river.
The idea of an under river crossing was first conceived in the 1920s by engineer FW Chalmes, who planned a tunnel that would house an electric monorail under the Tyne, with a wider tunnel to allow cars and busses to travel by train.
Prior to the tunnel opening, commuters needed to travel seven miles up river to cross via bridge, or to use the Tyne ferry.
The first vehicular Tyne Tunnel was opened by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. The ceremony lasted two and a half hours, and involved many local dignitaries including the Duchess of Northumberland, the Mayor and Mayoress of Newcastle, the Bishop of Newcastle, and many local politicians.
Once Her Majesty had declared the tunnel open, there followed a 21 Gun Royal Salute, fired by a battery of the Royal Artillery (Volunteers). She then travelled through the tunnel to greet the public waiting at the southern side.
Many local groups and residents, including the Sea Cadet Corps, the Girls’ Venture Corps, the Air Force Training Corps, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the Boys’ Brigade, the Church Lads’ Brigade, and the Durham Light Infantry, attended the event, all turning out to join in the celebrations.
The Tyne Tunnels have come a long way in the past 50 years, including the opening of a second vehicular tunnel in 2011, allowing for a dedicated northbound and southbound crossing. The first road crossing has undergone significant modernisation to ensure it meets the European safety standards, and is fitted with safety equipment to ensure it can run all day, every day. Lined in cast iron, it has a drainage system, fire safety equipment, ventilation, and cameras to monitor the traffic.
Ron Henderson, Tunnel Manager at TT2, said: “The Tyne Tunnels are an iconic part of the North East, and have been for 50 years. In that time, we have helped millions of people commute across the river conveniently and safely.
“The Tunnel has changed a lot since it first opened, and has changed with the times. The tollbooths used to be staffed and it cost 2s 6d to cross. Now we have an entirely automated system which is a lot quicker.
“We hope that the local community on both sides of the Tyne will join us in celebrating this big birthday for the Tyne Tunnel. We’re excited to see what the next 50 years holds for the region.”