Queensway road tunnel

Year:1934

Duration:9 years

Cost:£8m (£525m today)

Country: Liverpool, UK

What did this project achieve?

Build a road tunnel under the Mersey to link communities on either side

At just over 2 miles (3.24km) the Queensway tunnel was the longest road tunnel in the world when it opened in 1934.

The central part of the tunnel under the river is just under a mile (1.6km) long.

The project used 274,300 tonnes of concrete, 83,300 tonnes of cast iron and 939km of electric cables.

The tunnel originally had two branches — one to New Quay on the Liverpool side, the other to Rendell Street in Birkenhead. The Birkenhead branch closed in 1965.

Queensway is a toll tunnel. Although locals were told the charge would be dropped when the tunnel was paid for, the promise was never kept.

Around 35,000 vehicles use the tunnel every day.

Difference the tunnel has made

Liverpool city authorities had been worried about congestion at the Mersey Ferry terminal since the 1920s. There were often long queues of cars and lorries waiting to use the ferry so it could take hours to cross at this point.

After the tunnel opened drivers could cross in a few minutes. The tunnel considerably reduced traffic congestion in the area.

Easier movement of goods around the city meant the tunnel helped contribute to Liverpool's economic development.

How the work was done

Engineers began by sinking shafts on either side of the Mersey. A pair of pilot tunnels - 4.6m wide and 3.6m high - were then driven from each side of the Mersey.

Digging started on 16 December 1925. When the pilot tunnels met under the river on 3 April 1928 they were less than an inch (25mm) out of line.

Workers used pneumatic hammers and 66 tonnes of gelignite explosive to dig the main tunnel. This part of the project was completed in 1931.

Engineers lined the tunnel using iron rings bolted together and caulked – sealed and made waterproof – with lead wire.

The Liverpool entrance was dug using a hydraulic tunneling shield running on roller, a large circular iron frame with pockets. Each pocket had a man with a spade digging out the earth in front of him. When each section was dug out hydraulic jacks pushed the frame forward and workers lined the tunnel behind with bricks.

The project had a workforce of 1,700 men. 17 of them died during construction.

"​‌

I have driven through the Queensway tunnel thousands of times… I am always enthralled that I have travelled through one of the greatest engineering feats in the world.

Liverpool local Bill

who was 9 years old when he saw George V open the tunnel in 1934

Fascinating facts

Much of the 1.2m tonnes of rock and gravel dug up was later used to build Otterspool Promenade, a riverside walk to the south east of the tunnel.

In July 2009 to celebrate 75 years since its opening people were given the chance to walk through the tunnel. About 15,000 took part in the subterranean stroll – 2 of them from the original workforce.

The tunnel was used to film a scene from the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. It shows Harry jumping from Hagrid's magic motorbike onto a bus.

People who made it happen

  • Designer: Sir Basil Mott
  • Contractors: Edmund Nuttall, Sons & Co Ltd, Mott Hay and Anderson

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