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Kingsway tram subway tunnels
Aldwych, London, UK
associated engineer
Sir Alexander Binnie
Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice
date  1904 - 1908, 1929 - 1930
era  Modern  |  category  Tunnel  |  reference  TQ305811
ICE reference number  HEW 2259
Possibly uniquely in Britain, the Kingsway tunnel system, which is used these days as a vehicle underpass, was constructed as a subway for a tram line. The idea was to ease traffic congestion around Aldwych. The northern section, which begins nears Holborn Underground Station is now disused. The southern end has been modified to link Kingsway to the approach to Waterloo Bridge, passing under The Strand.
A tram subway was first suggested in 1889 and planning began in 1901, though work on site did not begin until 1904. The engineering was supervised at first by Sir Alexander Binnie (1839-1917), and from January 1902 by Maurice Fitzmaurice (1861-1924) and his assistant George W. Humphreys (1863-1945). All three worked for London County Council. Fitzmaurice was the council's Chief Engineer during the construction period.
The route runs from the junction of Theobalds Road and Southampton Row (TQ304816) south to Victoria Embankment (TQ307807), and in the time of the tramways, it enabled a connecting route for the council’s trams north and south of the river. Slum clearance in the Holborn area had paved the way for wider streets, such as Kingsway, and this made the construction of the tunnels possible — much was constructed using the cut and cover technique. The system is a complex combination of gradients, alignments and cross sections.
The cobbled ramp leading to the northern tunnel portal divides the traffic in Southampton Row. The 52m ramp is a little over 6m wide, and has a gradient of 1 in 10. The tram tracks run through a pair of cast iron-lined tunnels, 4.4m diameter and 78m long, passing under the Fleet Sewer, The tunnels are 9.4m below the road surface at Holborn, before another 1 in 10 ramp rises to Holborn Station.
Between Holborn and Aldwych, a distance of 573m, the tracks ran just below street level inside a single 6m wide rectangular tunnel, roofed with steel trough sections. The iron tramway rails were laid on longitudinal timber sleepers embedded in concrete. Electric power was supplied from a central conduit between the rails. King Edward VII opened the tramway to Aldwych Station on 24th February 1906.
From Aldwych the tunnel veered south west, dipping at 1 in 20 from Kingsway to pass under The Strand. The first part of this 134m length was a brick arch tunnel, changing to twin cast iron tubes below The Strand itself.
From The Strand, the tramway was again in a single rectangular tunnel, 110m long, below the surface viaduct leading to John Rennie’s (1761-1821) Waterloo Bridge (completed 1817, now demolished). The viaduct had to be underpinned to allow construction of the subway. An access portal at the end of the tunnel opened onto Victoria Embankment.
Through services in the whole length of the subway began on 10th April 1908. The total cost of the works, including improvements up to March 1910, was £2,173,359.
The tunnel system was built to take single-deck trams. Major engineering work began in September 1929 to allow double-deck trams through. The tramway was closed for the works from February 1930 and re-opened on 15th January 1931. Headroom was increased to 5m by underpinning and deepening the tunnels by around 1.5m and raising the roof at the northern end.
When the present Waterloo Bridge (1937-42) was being constructed, the southern end of the subway was re-aligned to bring the Victoria Embankment portal immediately beneath the bridge.
The last tram ran through the system in April 1952. London trams stopped altogether on 5th July that year. In 1953, London Transport used the tunnels as a store for 120 reserve buses and coaches for the coronation of Elizabeth II.
The southern section of the underpass that was converted for road traffic opened on 21st January 1964. In 1974, part of the old Holborn tram station was converted into the headquarters of London's borough flood control centres, in use until the Thames Flood Barrier was completed in 1984. The subway’s northern section, including the ramp in Southampton Row, has been Grade II listed since 1998.
In 2008, the subway was waterproofed and the road surface in Kingsway renewed. In 2012, part of the disused system became the site of a grout shaft for the Crossrail tunnels that will run under London running east-west. The shaft is 8m deep and 5m wide. It enables soil stabilisation, which will protect nearby buildings from movement once tunnelling begins. The Kingsway tram subway will be fully reinstated once grouting is complete.
Contractor: John Cochrane & Co
Contractor (1929-30): John Cochrane & Sons
Contractor (1964): John Mowlem & Co
Steelwork: Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co Ltd
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH Lond

Kingsway tram subway tunnels