Liverpool Queensway Road Tunnel Visit

There are three transport tunnels which link Liverpool, under the River Mersey, with the Wirral. The oldest is the Mersey Railway tunnel, opened in 1868 from Liverpool to Birkenhead. The Kingsway Tunnel, better known locally as the Wallasey Tunnel, opened to road traffic completely in 1974.

The middle tunnel, both in age and physical position, is the Queensway Tunnel, the road tunnel known to all locally as the Birkenhead Tunnel, which opened in 1934. Anyone from the Merseyside area will tell you the Queensway tunnel was opened by King George V and the Kingsway Tunnel was opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

Merseytravel, the operators of the tunnels, take small groups for tours of the Mersey tunnel in Liverpool. The tour guides showcase the ventilation system and original control room in Liverpool before the tour then descends deep underground. After a quick view of the traffic in the Liverpool tunnel, the tour then heads deeper for some more surprises.

The meeting point for the Mersey Tunnel tour is at the South West Corner of the ventilation shaft in Georges Dockway, a couple of roads back from the world famous Liverpool Pier Head.

On this page, my virtual tours (just like Google Street View) have red borders. The pictures on the tour were taken on 9th February 2023 which was led by Billie and Phil, a very knowledgeable pair with a never ending supply of comedy lines in between the factual bits. They were excellent.

The Liverpool ventilation shaft in Georges Dockway, seen from The Strand.

The Liverpool ventilation shaft, seen from the top of the Liver Building amongst the building of the Pier Head.

The Control Room

The original control room maintained safety in the tunnel from its opening in 1934 to relatively recently. The replacement control room uses networked sensors rather than having each sensor hard wired to a reporting position on a physical control board.

The Incident Log Books For The Tunnel

The books had been left open at mid-May in 1986 when a car had a barrier at the toll booth come down on its roof before it had driven through after paying.

Fresh Air Intake

The grey panels slid apart to reveal the impeller of the fan.

Vehicle Exhaust Fume Extract

What goes in clean, must come out, and so it is the same with the dirty air from the tunnel.

Air Locks

Throughout the ventilation shaft the airflow was controlled by air lock doors.

The Original Dock

Several of the buildings in Liverpool’s Pier Head use old docks as their foundations. Through some portals, the old walls could be seen and the tidal water heard below.

From Shaft To Road Tunnel

The ventilation shaft is not above the tunnel, but off to one side. A series of small horizontal tunnels connects the shaft to the road tunnel.

The Road Tunnel

Through the green doors of the horizontal tunnel lay the main road tunnel. Local buses are the only large vehicles now allowed through the tunnel. The buses have to stay in the second lane so they are in the largest part of the tunnel when it comes to going round the steep corners.

Tunnel Cross Section

The road tunnel is actually only half the story – or perhaps half the circle would be a better description.

The other half of the tunnel, as shown in the cross section, is below the road deck.

Staircase To The Tunnel

From the green doors in the horizontal tunnel, another door to the side opened up on a steep staircase going down to the half of the tunnel the road users never see.

Tunnel Fresh Air Duct

Part of the tunnel below the road way carries the fresh air the length of the tunnel.

The Tram Tunnel

Beneath the road deck, the roof in these pictures, is the space in which trams were intended to run through. After objections from the railway and ferry companies who feared a drop in passengers, the idea was abandoned.

The space is now used to carry a 6,000 volt electricity cable and fibre optic communication cables across the river. The breeze block building is one of the refuges built to keep tunnel users safe in the event of a major incident which forced the evacuation of the tunnel.

The Refuge

The seven refuges were built following the disastrous 1999 Mont Blanc Tunnel fire. The Mont Blanc tunnel was also a single tube (bore) which left survivors with no escape from the inferno and smoke. At one end of each refuge there is a ramp from road level down into the refuge. At the other end, a door opens into the tram tunnel.

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