First people use Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnel as Jarrow-to-Wallsend crossing finally opens after years of delays

The Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnel has finally reopened this afternoon after more than half a decade of delays, false dawns and disappointments.

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 1:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 2:28 pm

The historic crossing under the river was closed in May 2013, with ‘minor repairs’ and the installation of new lifts expected to be completed by 2015.

But a series of set backs, including contractors going bust and the discovery of asbestos saw timelines extended and budgets balloon, with the final bill expected to be more than £16million.

“The tunnel opened in 1951 and it’s had no significance maintenance since,” said project manager Stuart Turnbull, who joined the scheme in 2015.

Sarah O'Mahoney at the opening of Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel, Wallsend.

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“The tunnel is underwater and under a lot of pressure. Over time that water starts to corrode, starts to discolour the tiles, so it was due a refurbishment.

“The main aim was to remove one of the escalators and replace it with a glass lift, along with what we thought would be fairly minor repairs.

“However, once we opened it up it was far worse than we suspected and work escalated, then they found asbestos, which had to be treated, and then the main contractor we had went into administration, which stopped the work dead with maybe 25 – 30% of the work done.”

Mr Turnbull said asbestos decontamination took about two years, with workers in respiratory equipment working on hands and knees to remove every trace of the cancer-causing particles.

First pedestrians and cyclists enter the Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel, Wallsend following renovation

The tunnels, which connect Jarrow and Howdon, opened in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain and took four years to build, costing £833,000.

The original refurbishment budget was £6.9million but has now risen to £16.2million – and could rise higher still before work is completely finished.

Jonah Morris, partnership manager at Sustrans, a transport charity, said he hoped the reopened tunnels would improve sustainable transport.

Opening of the new renovated Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel, Jarrow

He added: “I think we downtalk how we are compared to other parts of the country, but we’ve got some really forward thinking councils working to promote alternative travel where they can.”

Cyclist Carlton Turnbull at the opening of Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel, Wallsend.