The Saint of Glasgow's Shieldhall Tunnel

Engineers at Glasgow's Shieldhall Tunnel project have a special '˜safety' measure in place

Picture: Saint Barbara is a 'safety' measure in the Shieldhall Tunnel Poject
Picture: Saint Barbara is a 'safety' measure in the Shieldhall Tunnel Poject

A team of engineers working on a flagship Scottish Water project in Glasgow don’t have to worry about traffic congestion and delays. But they do have one of the most interesting and unusual ways of getting to their workplace every day.

Tom Rushe and his colleagues are part of a team of engineers working on Scottish Water’s £100m Shieldhall Tunnel project in the south west of Glasgow - part of the biggest upgrade in the Greater Glasgow area’s waste water infrastructure since Victorian times.

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When complete, the tunnel will run for more than three miles from Craigton to Queen’s Park, under Bellahouston and Pollok parks, and will help improve river water quality and tackle flooding in parts of the city.

The concrete segments that make up the tunnel are prepared to be taken to the tunnel head. Picture: Robert Perry

The men are working on a massive, state-of-the-art Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) to build the tunnel at depths of as much as 32 metres, or 105 feet, as it travels at speeds of about 30 metres per day excavating earth and stone and installing the lining of the tunnel in the form of massive concrete rings.

Progress has been steady and the engineers have recently completed the first mile of the tunnel. The team building the tunnel for Scottish Water includes engineers who have worked on some of the biggest construction projects in the world, including the Channel Tunnel.

It is a world away from the construction of the Clyde Tunnel in the early 1960s – which is just a fifth as long – in which two workers died and others suffered decompression sickness.
However, for some Shieldhall tunnellers, the most important safety feature is a small statuette in a wooden case at the tunnel mouth. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of tunnellers and miners because of their use of explosives and her association with lightning.

Traditionally, a shrine to the saint is placed at the tunnel portal before digging starts. Shieldhall’s Barbara, who was brought by some of the French tunnellers on the project, shares her glass-fronted box with some paperwork. Should her powers fail, mounted on the wall beside the case is a more modern way of calling for help – a phone.

The concrete segments that make up the tunnel are prepared to be taken to the tunnel head. Picture: Robert Perry

A Scottish water spokesman said: “St Barbara is the patron saint of tunnellers and Costain, our contractor, has many experienced staff on site who have worked on projects such as the Channel Tunnel.

“Every tunneller invokes the protection of St Barbara at the start of a shift and thanks her at the end. That’s why there’s a statue of St Barbara placed at the start of the workings.

“No tunnelling project of this scale would be complete without its statue of the patron and tunnellers demand that St Barbara is present with them underground.”