Mersey tunnel celebrates with sound of music: Jonathan Foster reports on plans to mark the diamond jubilee of an engineering masterpiece

QUEENSWAY tunnel beneath the Mersey will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its opening on Sunday with the ultimate in underground music - a concert 60 metres below the river-bed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Traffic will be halted for the diamond jubilee celebrations, but the normal daily passage of 40,000 vehicles, 60 per cent more than anticipated in 1934, represents a main artery of the Merseyside economy, the factor which removed more ships from the river than any other.

Both banks of the river flourished during the heyday of North Atlantic trade, and a large fleet of ferries shuttled back and forth, using perilous jetties to shift loads.

Passenger ferry traffic, mainly commuters from Wirral, halved when the railway pushed under the Mersey but, until the road tunnel opened, 'luggage ferries' running every 20 minutes still could not cope. The river was hopelessly congested.

'Boss' Archibald Salvidge, the great leader of Protestant working-class Toryism, pioneered the idea of a tunnel. Salvidge died before it opened, but forged the Liverpool-Birkenhead municipal partnership which persuaded Whitehall to lend the pounds 34m needed.

Work began in 1925, after completion of research by John Haldane, a mining engineer at Birmingham University, solved the problem of ventilating such a huge subterranean space.

Giant fans, still in perfect working order, push air along the bottom of the tube, and up through the road deck.

Carbon dioxide emissions, which rise thermally to the top of the tunnel, are pushed out of the tunnel by the passage of traffic.

It has long been the tunnel operators' claim that the air in mid- river is cleaner than in the city centre.

Queensway is 44ft in diameter. It took 1,700 men to displace 1.2 million tons of rock and create the tunnel with 82,000 tons of cast iron and 270,000 tons of concrete. When completed it was twice as long as any tunnel in the world, and remains the longest four-lane tunnel - a structure of bold engineering innovation typical of the railway era. The baggage ferries were wiped out.

The tunnel's finances have been a source of some concern. Traffic reached a peak of 18.2 million vehicles in 1971, when the Mersey authorities were committed to the opening of a new tunnel, the Kingsway. The Government had agreed to reschedule the debt to allow Kingsway to be constructed, but the 1973 oil crisis and recession, in conjunction with the decline of North Atlantic trading routes, depleted revenue from tolls.

The two tunnels became a pounds 110m debt burden which John Gillard, general manager and historian of the tunnels, says is now under control, with traffic volumes increasing. Cars pay pounds 1, lorries up to pounds 4.

'It is the cheapest tunnel toll per mile. Dartford charges 90p for half the length,' Mr Gillard said.

'It has also been one of the safest stretches of road,' he added. 'There have been very few incidents, although a water main burst three years ago and we had to pump out half a million gallons. The water company didn't have to pay a penny compensation.'

They had best be on their guard on Sunday, when the public will be allowed to walk through Queensway and view an exhibition at Albert Dock which will answer many enduring questions.

For example, why are there bends in the tunnel? Because it had to swerve around rail tunnels at the Birkenhead end and avoid undermining some big buildings near the Liverpool waterfront. The Liverpool Philharmonic, conducted by Carl Davis, will be in full evening dress for their midday concert, which will run an appropriate gamut from the Onedin Line theme to a Beatles medley.

'It will be a sonic experience,' Mr Davis said. The music will carry to the art deco masterpieces which form the tunnel entrances, and so will the air. Queensway is a masterpiece of its kind.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel: