The Connaught Railway Tunnel

August 8th, 2010

Ah, London! There’s so much interesting stuff here that people don’t think to mention half of it. I only came across a reference to this tunnel by accident, mentioned in passing on some random web page, but by no means is it a well-kept secret. It’s nice, though.

Running under an airport, and two docks, the tunnel isn’t really all that long – it’s merely an underground section of a predominately overground rail system. Well, it was, before it was rendered obsolete by nearby light rail services. It’s not hard to find, and, certain discouragements notwithstanding, not that difficult to access.

I arrived by light rail, and surveyed one end of the tunnel happily. Unfortunately, it was not a great point at which to gain entry, so on I went overland, and across the bridge that spans the docks, conscious that I was roughly tracing the path of the tunnel, which ran somewhere under the deep water below. According to railway history people, the tunnel was closed for a while at one point in its history for emergency remediation when it was discovered ships were dragging their keels on the roof…

This being London, things were relatively damp. It was drizzling lightly as I entered, and I could hear the gurgling of water through the drains that run through the floor. I did wonder where all that water was going – pumped out, perhaps? I imagine that without maintenance, this place would just fill with water. As it was, there was plenty of moisture dripping down the walls, and flowing across the track remnants. The rails themselves glinted wet with rust. If you like musty smells, you should visit here.

Maybe things degrade quickly in this environment, but appearances belied the fact that the tunnel has only been closed for a matter of years, not decades.

The central portion of the tunnel is glorious ironwork – perhaps the remediation mentioned previously?  By the time I reached that section, it had grown dramatically colder.  Cold water ran over my thankfully-waterproof boots, and a chilly breeze flowed past.  It’s not a long tunnel, at a little over half a kilometre, but it does carry a significant gradient.  Running around lighting photos warmed me up pretty effectively, though!

The thing with London is that while I gloried at the stunning brickwork, it’s just not unusual here.  Half the city boasts remarkable architecture from before Australia had seen western colonisation.  As the usual resident of a relatively young city, I’m just not accustomed to seeing such civil engineering wonders at every turn.

8 Responses to “The Connaught Railway Tunnel”

  1. Eloise (Eloctre)on 08 Aug 2010 at 5:41 pm

    These are the places that make you believe there are underground cities. Places where movies could be filmed. Wonderful photos! The last photo is particularly haunting. If these walls could talk…

  2. Sheilaon 08 Aug 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Other people might gaze at the wonder of St Paul’s cathedral – the majesty of Westminster Abbey -even drool at Harrod’s food hall -but not our Sven. Straight down the rabbit hole to explore the delights of London’s nether regions !

  3. Winchesteron 17 Aug 2010 at 12:18 am

    Really great pics, I struggle underground, but you know exactly what you’re doing!

  4. Svenon 17 Aug 2010 at 10:48 pm

    Thanks! Yeah, underground photography is great fun, but you really do have to try not to get disheartened by all the failed attempts while you work out how to get some decent results.

  5. djdmon 02 Sep 2010 at 8:50 pm

    If you really want to see amazing century-old architecture around *every* corner, you should come see Budapest :-)

  6. Svenon 23 Sep 2010 at 7:27 pm

    I hear good things about Budapest – maybe next time :)

  7. Wayneon 31 Jan 2012 at 1:42 am

    Hi Sven
    Fantastic photographs! Now I’m all set on visiting it. Could you share how you accessed the tunnel please? I’m new to the city, and a map or directions would be most appreciated. Have you found any other subterranean gems in London since?
    Thanks much
    Wayne

  8. Janeon 18 Apr 2014 at 2:07 am

    Hi Sven,

    I found a photo of the Connaught Tunnel online that I believe is yours. I would like to know if you would consider licensing the image for use in a documentary series about Crossrail – the new railway in London that is re-using this tunnel.

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