Only way is down for landmark steps

ESCALATORS which are believed to be the longest of their type in the world have had their ups and downs over the last 60 years.

ESCALATORS which are believed to be the longest of their type in the world have had their ups and downs over the last 60 years.

But now what were one of the main features of the listed Tyne pedestrian and cyclist tunnels, have reached the end of the line.

Installed in 1951, they have been increasingly prone to breakdown and have reached the point of being beyond economic repair.

The tunnels will close on May 20 for around a year for a £4.9m refurbishment, and this will include the removal of two of the four escalators.

Each metre of escalator weighs around one tonne, and a section will be going to South Shields Museum.

They will be replaced by inclined lifts, which will travel at an angle of 30 degrees alongside the remaining two locked escalators.

The lift cars are to be constructed largely of glass to give all-round vision of the inclined shafts and the exposed workings of the retained escalators. Feature lighting will be installed to give tunnel users an insight into the construction and operation of the two remaining escalators, which can still be used as stairways in emergencies.

The four wooden-step Waygood-Otis escalators were, at the time of construction, the longest single-rise escalators in the world, with a vertical rise of 25.9m (85ft) and a length of approximately 61m (200ft).

They are believed still to be the longest wooden-step escalators in Europe.

Tyne & Wear Integrated Transport Authority project director Paul Fenwick said: “The tunnels are an important transport link between North and South Tyneside, with usage particularly by cyclists increasing in recent times.

“All four original escalators are now out of service so this refurbishment will give the tunnels a new lease of life and will greatly improve the experience for users. Inclined lifts are rare in Britain and we expect them to become something of an attraction in themselves once the tunnels reopen.”

The cars will be capable of travelling at one metre per second up and down the 30-degree inclines.

A single journey will take around 60 seconds compared to around three minutes on the old escalators.

The inclined lift cars will be able to carry 27 people (without bikes) at a time, with an estimated capacity of carrying 1,000 pedestrians or 240 cyclists with their bikes every hour.

The lifts will accommodate bicycles, tandems wheelchairs, push chairs and smaller motorised disabled scooters.

The tunnels’ two vertical lifts, refurbished in 2010/11, will also continue to be available post-refurbishment.

At several areas within the tunnels, sections of tiles have already been removed in order to reveal the tunnel structure itself. Such areas will be extended where appropriate to allow repairs before re-tiling with replica heritage tiling.

The paving in both tunnels is also to be lifted and re-laid throughout the full length of the tunnels. The refurbishment has listed building consent from both North Tyneside and South Tyneside councils.

During the closure, a free shuttle bus service for pedestrians and cyclists will operate between the tunnel entrances in Jarrow and Howdon from 6am and 8pm, seven days a week.

A night service will also be provided by tunnel operators TT2, assisting TWITA, for night shift workers who pre-register. Night shift workers can register by downloading a form from www.tynepedestrianandcyclisttunnels.

The refurbishment is being funded from the Tyne Tunnels’ revenue account, so there will be no financial burden on council tax payers.


David Whetstone
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Graeme Whitfield
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