Clyde Tunnel guided tours for 50th anniversary

The Clyde Tunnel in Glasgow during construction. Picture: Robert Perry
The Clyde Tunnel in Glasgow during construction. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE first guided tours of Scotland’s only road tunnel are being planned for next month to mark the 50th anniversary of its opening.

People will have the chance to walk into the Clyde Tunnel in Glasgow, which lies 20ft below the river.

The half-mile-long crossing between Whiteinch and Govan carries 65,000 vehicles a day – as many as the Forth Road Bridge, which celebrates its own half- century next year. It was also the world’s steepest tunnel when built, with a 1:16 gradient so that the carriageways would connect with surrounding streets such as Dumbarton Road.

The planned walking tours on Sunday, 7 July, come five years after a proposed choral concert in the tunnel was scrapped, apparently over security fears.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council, which operates the tunnel, said: “There are plans for a celebration to mark 50 years of the tunnel at the start of July.

“It’s looking like there will be an event on 7 July where we will close one of the bores [tunnel structures] and host walking tours.”

The first bore of the tunnel was opened on 3 July, 1963, and the other one the following March. There are separate cycle/pedestrian tunnels beneath both.

Andy Waddell, the council’s head of roads, said: “We are tremendously excited that we will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. A lot of hard work went into the tunnel between 1957 and 1964 when it was finally completed.”

Kathy Friend, who planned the 2008 concert, said: “It is very exciting there will be an event to celebrate the anniversary.

“The tunnel is an astounding structure. It is cathedral-like with a very echoey atmosphere, but you do not get that impression by whizzing through in a car. It is certainly worth a visit.”

Ms Friend, who created the holdyourbreath.org website about the tunnel, named after the age-old challenge not to take a breath from one end to the other, said she hoped the concert would be staged there one day.

She said: “People would walk down into the tunnel towards the sound of a choir and drums.”

The original Tunnel Echoes performance was switched to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and included the speciallycomposed Soft Rain by Gareth Williams, who is now Scottish Opera’s composer in residence.

The planned tours are likely to attract considerable interest after the first public visits to the tunnel’s control room were sold out during last year’s Doors Open Day weekend, in which people are given access to buildings normally out of bounds.

Ruth Morris, events and development co-ordinator of the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, which organised last September’s tours, said: “As soon as the event was announced, we were receiving phone calls from curious and excited Glaswegians who wanted a place on one of the tours.

“Within one week, all 100 places were booked and we still had many more inquiries.

“Through speaking to Doors Open Day fans, it was clear the Clyde Tunnel struck a chord with many of them. It’s a prime example of a key landmark in the city.”

The crossing handles three times its original traffic volumes and a series of major repairs have caused significant traffic disruption, including during last summer. A secondary tunnel lining was added in 2005-07 to increase safety following fatal fires in tunnels in the Alps.

The city council describes the tunnel as a “key part of the transport network within not only Glasgow but also west Scotland”.

However, Transport Scotland said the tunnel should stay under council control rather than be maintained as part of the Scottish Government-funded trunk road network, as 95 per cent of its traffic starts or ends in Glasgow.

Its spokesman said: “The Clyde Tunnel is a route which is predominately of local importance and is therefore the responsibility of Glasgow City Council for improving, maintaining and repairing.”

THE TUNNEL IN NUMBERS

1957 - Construction starts

1963 - First tunnel opens on 3 July

1964 - Second tunnel opens in March (One northbound and the other southbound – both two-lane/ Joint pedestrian/cycle tunnel beneath each)

7 Football pitches long or ...

0.48 Miles (762m)

21ft - Depth at which tunnel sits beneath river (6m)

16.5ft - Tunnel height (5m)

1:16 - Gradient – steepest tunnel when built

65,000 Vehicles a day pass through

£10.5m - Construction cost