Construction of the Tunnels began in 1947. Two shafts were sunk, one on each bank, before the connecting Tunnels were excavated by miners operating in compressed air.
Listen to electrician George Robinson describe what it was like working in the tunnels during the early stages of construction.
The Tunnels were opened on 24th July 1951 by Transport Minister Alfred Barnes.
They were part of the North East’s contribution to the Festival of Britain, and built at a cost of £833,000. the Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels for years provided a safe and reliable way for thousands of workers to cross the river to work in the shipyards and factories that then lined the Tyne.
At their peak, around 20,000 people used the Tunnels every day. By the time the Tunnels closed for refurbishment in 2013, that had dropped to 20,000 per month.
The number of users declined as Tyneside’s industrial profile changed and the first vehicle Tyne Tunnel opened nearby in 1967, car ownership grew and lifestyles changed.
By the early 2000s, the Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels were in a poor state of repair. The harsh underground conditions and general wear and tear led to frequent breakdowns of the escalators and vertical lifts. The costs of repairs spiralled.
In an effort to guarantee the future of the Tunnels, there was a successful application to have them listed as a structure of special historical interest. They were granted Grade II listed status in May 2000.
The then Tunnels’ owner, the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, decided that to revive the Tunnels as a safe, reliable means of crossing the river, a complete refurbishment was necessary. The Tunnels closed in May 2013 and re-opened on 7th August 2019.