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Major works carried out to Victorian rail tunnel for Crossrail

By Nick Mann



  • 13 million litres of water drained from Royal Victoria Dock to allow Crossrail to access Connaught Tunnel from above
  • Hole drilled in top of the tunnel to allow work to continue
  • Tunnel built in 1878 and disused since 2006 to be brought back into use for Crossrail

A Victorian rail tunnel beneath the Royal Docks in east London has been exposed to the light of day for the first time in 135 years as part of works to prepare for the arrival of Crossrail trains in 2018.

A hole has been drilled in the exposed crown of the Connaught Tunnel, which runs beneath the Royal Victoria Dock, following work to drain 13 million litres of water from a section of the docks that lie above.

Work will now continue to open up a hole that will eventually measure approximately 20 metres long and 10 metres wide to allow for the engineering equivalent of ‘open heart surgery’ to strengthen, deepen and widen the central section of the tunnel so that it can accommodate Crossrail’s trains.

Sections of the tunnel are in a poor condition and parts of it were narrowed during the 1930s so that the dock could be deepened to accommodate larger ships with brickwork removed and steel segments installed. The hole in the crown of the tunnel will allow Crossrail to remove much of this material and to continue with the process of ensuring that the tunnel is safe and ready for the arrival of the new trains.

Over the last few months a cofferdam measuring 1300 sq. metres, around the size of four tennis courts, has been put in place to allow a section of the Royal Victoria Dock to be drained so that Crossrail workers can access the tunnel from above. During the draining of the dock, a total of 332 fish were removed and safely relocated on either side of the cofferdam.

The tunnel was built in 1878 and has not been in passenger use since December 2006. It is the only existing tunnel that will be re-used for Crossrail.

Linda Miller, Connaught Tunnel Project Manager said: “The Connaught Tunnel is testament to the engineering skill of the Victorians, but after 135 years there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get it ready for Crossrail . Now we’ve opened the top of the tunnel we’ll start the engineering equivalent of open heart surgery - widening and deepening the structure so that it can accommodate up to twelve trains an hour in each direction.”

When the southeast section of Crossrail opens, up to 12 trains an hour in each direction will run through the Connaught Tunnel, reducing journey times and supporting the wider regeneration of the Royal Docks.

With Crossrail, the journey from Abbey Wood to Bond Street will be around 20 minutes quicker and passengers travelling to Heathrow will be able to shave around 40 minutes off their journey.

As well as widening and deepening the central section of the tunnel, the work at the site will include laying new tracks, waterproofing, installing water pumps and cleaning the 135 years of coal and soot from the bricks.

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For further information contact the Crossrail Press Office on 020 3229 9552 or email [email protected]k

About Crossrail:

The total funding envelope available to deliver Crossrail is £14.8bn.

The Crossrail route will pass through 37 stations and run 118 km (73 miles) from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, through new twin-bore 21 km (13 miles) tunnels below central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

When Crossrail opens it will increase London's rail-based transport network capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city. Crossrail services are due to commence through central London in 2018.

Crossrail is being delivered by Crossrail Limited (CRL). CRL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London. Crossrail is jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and Transport for London.