Re-Opening Of Britain’s Best Cycleway

Episode 223

Re-Opening Of Britain’s Best Cycleway


Wednesday 7th August 2019

HOST: Carlton Reid


Engineer Stuart Turnbull
Jonah Morris, partnership manager, Sustrans
Peter Calhoun, a Ridley-riding roadie of the North Tyneside Road Club

TOPIC: The re-opening, after a six year refurbishment, of the Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels, near Newcastle, northern England. The tunnels were built in 1951.

Forbes article.



Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 223 of the spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. The show was recorded on Wednesday, August the seventh 2019.

David Bernstein 0:24
The spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jensen USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Jenson slash the spokesmen. Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fred cast cycling podcast at WWW dot the Fred I’m one of the hosts and producers of the spokesman cycling roundtable podcast. For show notes, links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at W

Unknown Speaker 1:00 And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:09
Hey, I’m Carlton Reid. And recently I’ve brought you shows from Sweden and from Idaho in America. But for today’s dose of the spokesmen I stayed rather close to home, yet still managed to visit what I think is probably Britain’s best cycleway. This is inside a tube buried in the silt of the river time near my home in Newcastle. The Tyne pedestrian and Cyclist tunnels in two separate tubes and was sunk into the river 68 years ago. In 2013, the Grade II listed tunnels were closed for refurbishment, cutting off a vital transport link for Tyneside’s, many of whom have been chomping at the bit waiting for the tunnels to reopen. Back in March I

Carlton Reid 2:00
wrote a thumping great article on the refurbishment for after I was given early access to the tunnels. They were meant to reopen a few weeks after that, but the ribbon cutting ceremony kept on getting knocked back. Well. today, the tunnels were finally reopened and I rode across there with my tape recorder and my trusty drone to capture some audio and video footage of the day’s event. The video is online already. And I was at a show I speak with three people. The project manager of the refurbishment, a representative from building charity Sustrans and a Ridlet riding roadie who cycled in the tunnel as a taught in 1953 or so.

Stuart Turnbull

I am Stuart Turnbull. And I’m the project manager for the Tyne pedestrian cycle tunnel. And you just told me that this is a labour of love, and I agree it’s a fantastic job you’ve done here. How long

Carlton Reid 3:00
How long yave you been on site? And how long have the people been on site? If maybe that’s different?

Stuart Turnbull 3:07
Yes, it is different.Myself and my team came to site in April 2015, after GB building solutions, who was the original main contractor went into administration. So we were asked if we would come and step in, and see whether we possibly take over the project. The project itself started may 2013. So we’re just past six years that the tunnels have actually been closed. And that six years of doing what I mean, there’s asbestos in here. There was an awful lot that people got surprised at what was here, and that’s why the estimate went up. That’s why the costs went up. The TA went up, everything just went different. Yeah, absolutely. And there is I mean, you know, the initial assessment, we knew there was asbestos in here. We knew that there was some structural deterioration, but because it’s a listed building, you’re limited to how much you can destroy you before you start working. Fortunately, we nobody anticipated a the amount of asbestos

Stuart Turnbull 4:00
The amount of contamination that would cause the this the amount of deterioration once we started lifting structures taken off tiles, the water ingress was much more significant. So everything just escalated from from that point.

Carlton Reid

So this is probably quite accurately on the on the tape here because we are under the Tyne at the moment and there are two tunnels here. So you people tend to say in you know, the cyclists tunnel of pedestrians tunnel but of course it’s two tunnels it’s plural. So just describe what we’re looking at here. Now we are we are where are we now?

Stuart Turnbull

Right right. So we’re stood now just the other portal of the pedestrian tunnels we’re in the pedestrian tunnel and it’s a slightly smaller diameter in the cycle tunnel so that made it slightly bigger for the for the cyclist, but not hugely noticeable. And and what you’re looking down is where we’re still looking towards Jarrow.

Carlton Reid

We’re looking at a steep slope here. So it goes it goes down and goes down goes out and lightens out.

Stuart Turnbull 4:55
Yeah, and there’s there’s a couple of engineering reasons for that. They have to follow the strata and

Stuart Turnbull 5:00
When the best route through, but also for, for the for the drainage because it totals eat water even when they’re brand new. So you have to manage the drainage so so that’s including gets us down to a some by the waters then pumped out up to the surface as well. So there’s an engineering need for it.

Carlton Reid

We’ve got about half an hour before people are allowed in so this is first time in six years people are allowed to come in so I’m guessing there’s not going to be hordes coming through. But this in its day and that is peak. So it was built 1951 in like 1960s it was 20,000 people a day. What are you projecting for people coming through walking and cycling? Do you have any idea?

Stuart Turnbull

We’ve all discussed this and obviously there’s we know there’s a lot of interest because whatever there’s anything released about it. We get a lot of commentary. There’s been a lot of interest about a day the the amount of press that come to see the opening. We know there’s interest there. And we really just don’t know I mean, we could be looking at dozens we could be looking at hundreds we could be at the thousands certainly maybe in the light the first three or four weeks.

Stuart Turnbull 6:00
We purposely wanted to try and get it back open, because there’s some holidays as well, because we thought, there’s a chance that families will be off, they want to bring the children down. And and I know and I’ve been telling people that I’ve been involved this project, a lot of people don’t even know that there’s a total here that did that they know about the traffic to another, all driven through it, but a lot of people didn’t know. So I hope these kind of events and the coverage going forward will really put it back on the agenda. And people can come and see this fantastic, which is an industrial heritage asset for the Northeast industrial heritage. It was done really well back in the day, the 1950s. And I still describe this as probably watching the pedestrian tunnel in the place in total now, but of course, next to us is the slightly wider as you say, cyclists tunnel. I still described that as probably Britain’s best cycle infrastructure, even though it’s, you know, was built in 1951. But it’s an incredibly impressive infrastructure back then, even still today. Certainly, back that it wasn’t I mean, it was it was this was the first dual purpose

Stuart Turnbull 7:00
pedestrian and cyclist tunnel on the block to pedestrian tunnels right? That was the first time they’ve done a dual purpose one so it was quite significant in its time as well. And and yes we do we just we haven’t spent all this time to do this we just want to see it used we want people to enjoy it when people will put it on their bike to work routes and and bring families down make it part of a route from Newcastle Quaysideside down through the tunnel and back again. We want people to enjoy it and use it.

Carlton Reid

So when it was built, it was for the shipyards on both sides of the river, the shipyards are long gone. And now this is mostly you think can be used for leisure or do you envisage people using this you know, at three in the morning to get to work at four what how do you think it’s generally

Stuart Turnbull

I mean, again, once we close so long we don’t we don’t actually know but what we do know is that we’ve run a shuttle bus so there’s still being a means to cross the time whether on foot on a bicycle. And and whilst not thousands of people It has been regularly news and the peak times mornings in

Stuart Turnbull 8:00
we get commuters who are doing it and some slightly outside of that. But then we do get a lot of leisure cyclist as well. So you’re right. I mean, we haven’t got the same industry on the banks of the time as we did. But I also think things like cycling have got a bigger profile now even probably the last six years, things like the Tour de France and that come into the UK and I guess it’s part of the work that once once I finished the purely technical building construction side of it, that that will be picked up as well and promoted and we’ll move on so students here today and and they’re very keen to get that promoted again on their site on networks. So so it’s that kind of coverage that we want to say, hey, if you don’t know about it, this is what’s here. If you do come down, you’re in for a treat, because it’s quite unique.

Carlton Reid 8:44
And say make it part of allegedly ride the weekend with the family. Now the Italian lifts that the left the inclined lifts aren’t working yet. When When are they going to be work because they look pretty trend in these glass. Absolutely. Glass lifts but they’re not working. No and unfortunately, that’s the biggest

Stuart Turnbull 9:00
Point and but we made a major decision that will have been working. We have had them operational, but it’s just the testing commission and part of it and the Italians have just been struggling to get that final bit right. And unfortunately, Italy shuts down for most of August it’s a it’s a national holiday and we were told in July if they’re not ready by then we’ll we’ll be off site for most of August. So as you can see all the other construction workers finished. We have the decision do we wait and post another two month delay? Or do we just get it open? And I think the whole team said no, let’s get it open. And and let people share it, share it and see it again as it is. So I think it’s the right decision. Personally, I would say that but I think it’s the right decision to to open it and get people to to look in and see what it’s about.

Jonah Morris

I am Jonah Morris, partnerships manager for Sustrans. So we have got on dirt on the outside here. We’ve got the Hadrian cycle way we have what kind of infrastructure Have you got around the tunnel? So it’s going south

Jonah Morris 10:00
Links through to NCN 14 which will take you down to Darlington and coming North it links to 72 so Hadrian cycle way which goes coast to coast and also National Cycle network route one as well. So Dover to Shetland Isles under the river.

Carlton Reid

You’ve currently got an over river option with the ferry that you’ve now got over and under options so it’s been quite a major dislocation for the past six years not having the tunnel three because yes, you can go across on the ferry, but it is does take longest very nice on the ferry, but this is just your cycling through. It’s a fantastic bit of infrastructure. So this is gonna be a key missing link.

Jonah Morris

In effect. It is yes. And you know, every piece of research shows that people want segregated infrastructure as well and what better example of segregated infrastructure that you are not only segregated from cars you are also segregated from pedestrians because they have their own tunnel as well.

Carlton Reid

Yeah, because like in Antwerp, they’ve got a tunnel similar to this, but it’s a cyclists and pedestrians are you actually next to each other?

Jonah Morris 11:00
cycling and walking along whereas this year, hopefully Yes, separate from each other. I think people might need to watch their speed though because with the incline, you do get up quite a speed going down. And whilst it’s nice and wide, you won’t necessarily see someone coming the other side at the same speed. But yeah, I’m sure those issues will work themselves out.

Carlton Reid 11:21
So, what kind of usage Do you envisage here? If you have I mean, I know you do monitoring on the cycle network of how many people come through, what do you envisage happening here with this missing link,

Jonah Morris

nabbing no longer missing, and I think it will be key for commuters, as well as leisure cyclists. You know, I’ve I live north of the river. I’ve got a lot of friends who live north of the river but works out for the river. So currently, I’ve got to take either the ferry or the bus transfer. So happy to have this open. Eventually, 24 hours a day, you know, people working on nights

Jonah Morris 12:00
South of the river, it’ll be key for them as well as well as for leisure cyclists doing long distance journeys, either doing all of Hadrian’s or all of the NCR cycle route, which will form part of this as well. Those coming over from Ijulmeden to North Shields on DFDS ferries is very to get onto this to get your get yourself in the river straight away. I mean, what better advert can it be for the Northeast than to have something like this?

Carlton Reid

So what Sustrans is going to be doing apart from your presence here, of course, Jonah, what are you going to be doing?

Jonah Morris

So we’ll be promoting it through our website. And people have been notified that it’s been closed past six years, so we will be writing a piece to let people know that it’s open. And we’re also supporting, particularly North Tyneside council who got transforming city’s funding to do some off road

Jonah Morris 12:50
infrastructure improvements on the north side as well as working with South Tyneside on links through South the road for as well. So I think the key for us will be working with the local

Jonah Morris 13:00
authorities to make sure that infrastructure on either side is to the best it can possibly be to then allow the tunnel to get its maximum usage.

Peter Calhoun 13:10
I am Peter Calhoun, but I’ve come down to be one of the first people through the tunnel and be part of the experience.

Carlton Reid

But you you’ve been here six years ago when it closed for refurbishment. You used to come before that.

Peter Calhoun

Oh, yes, yeah, many times throughout my life. But more recently with with the NCR cycling club.

Peter Calhoun 13:33
fabulous for getting across the western experience. Is this going to be like a route for the club then to come come through and get across the river, definitely on our list of rides. There’s a list of a route to come through here this Sunday. So we’re looking forward to that.

Carlton Reid

And where you’re going to go from here. You get into Jarrow and then we’re from Jarrow

Peter Calhoun

will haven’t decided that yet. But it’s the routers involved here. And how many people are in the club.

Peter Calhoun 14:00
It was in the region about 400. And we like to promote safety. And when we wear our

Peter Calhoun 14:09
uniform, our our jersey would like to show what cyclists can be here like, and would like to be in a good example to

Peter Calhoun 14:19
the cycling community and get more respect on our side.

Carlton Reid

That’s very laudable. And now, I have missed I heard you before when when I caught you saying Was it your father, or your brother had the bends on it, who worked on this,

Peter Calhoun

M father in law worked on here back in the day, and the the river was held back by compressed air. And so it’s a bit like dive and he had to go down and come back at a certain risk and suffering from the bends was quite common. And he suffered with that.

Carlton Reid 14:55
So that was 19 1950 1951 when it was built the whole area

Peter Calhoun 15:00
After us the channel was first built going across the the river was he ended by this in the work as he would you wouldn’t be able to get room get space on here it was but now that the build the the the tank tunnel

Peter Calhoun 15:18
with with traffic obviously this is not

Carlton Reid 15:22
what it used to be. So if you don’t mind me asking you how old are you?

Peter Calhoun

I’m 70.

Carlton Reid

So you would have remembered this? You’ve been you’ve been in this for 70 years and you’ve been you’ve been coming potentially down here quite a lot.

Peter Calhoun

Yeah. If If my first bike

Peter Calhoun 15:40
was too heavy for me and I couldn’t hold it and had to be rescued by your fellow traveller who

Peter Calhoun 15:47
come to my rescue big time I was absolutely in floods of tears, crying for help, and he was my hero. And was that on the escalator was good as the people I was with work was further up my brother

Peter Calhoun 16:00
His friends were

Peter Calhoun 16:02
only able to get down because they had their own bikes. So that’s a memory that I hold, dear. And that would have been when roughly 65 years ago,

Peter Calhoun 16:13
maybe 67 years ago, right?

Carlton Reid

No 64 6064 years since your first memory of using it because it was a quite a traumatic experience. In fact, there’s little kids there now using it and we can see we are right now seeing little kids probably of your age, back then using it again, going down a lift. Now, of course, and then how did you use it in subsequent years?

Peter Calhoun 16:41
Not a great deal, because of the alternatives.

Peter Calhoun 16:45
And I’m only been in the cycle for the last

Peter Calhoun 16:48
three years haven’t haven’t joined the club. And it’s been

Carlton Reid 16:54
it’s been very rewarding. Well, I’m looking down at your bike. Now you’ve got a very, very nice Ridley.

Peter Calhoun 17:00
I think I’ve earned it.

Peter Calhoun 17:02
I’ve rewarded yourself with the amount of time and effort I’ve put in and it was time for a new bike. And how old is it? It looks brand spanking new to me a few few months old. Yes. Very nice. And you’re gonna be using it this weekend for coming on this this this ride. This will be the bank that you would use on the, on the MTI and car rides. Yeah, a lot of the club members have been down to Ride London and we did our own

Peter Calhoun 17:28
100 mile ride. So it’ll be some sore legs, but I’m sure as a Sunday, they’ll be quite a few people down here.

Peter Calhoun 17:36
Thanks to today’s guests, and thank you for listening to this spokesman cycling practical podcast, show notes and more can be found on the dash Now, you may remember I told you about the virtual velo city podcasts I recorded with manager Laura lake in Dublin in June.

Thanks to today’s guests, and thank YOU for listening to the Spokesmen Cycling Roundtable podcast. Show notes and more can be found on

Now, you may remember I told you about the Virtual Velo-city podcasts I recorded with Laura Laker in Dublin in June. These were originally sent out only to Kickstarter backers but I’m pleased to report they are now free to all thanks to sponsorship from the Dutch Cyclkijg Embassy. Search for Virtual Velo-City on iTunes, Spotify and other places where you may get your podcasts. I’ve uploaded three shows so far, with another nine to be published weekly.

And there will be another episode from The Spokesmen real soon … meanwhile, get out there and ride.

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