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History

The Waterloo Tunnel is a 779 metre (852 yards) long disused railway tunnel in Liverpool. It opened in 1849. At its Eastern end, the Waterloo Tunnel opens into a short cutting (approximately 63 metres long) which connects to the Victoria Tunnel which is 1.536 miles (2.474 kilometres) long. Effectively, both tunnels are one long tunnel with an open-air ventilation cutting in between; however, they were given different names initially because trains in the Waterloo Tunnel were locomotive hauled while trains in the Victoria Tunnel were cable hauled. 

In terms of tunnel architecture, the Waterloo Tunnel features a semi-circular opening, wide enough to accommodate three separate tracks. The westernmost section has been backfilled and there are occasional accumulations of calcite on the brickwork. Most of the Waterloo Tunnel is brick-lined; however, it is not listed. The Victoria Tunnel, on the other hand, is Grade II listed. It features a rusticated arch flanked by buttresses, together with a modillioned cornice and ashlar-coped parapet. The first two-hundred yards of the tunnel are brick-arched, but after that it is unlined up to the fourth ventilation shaft. There are five visible air shafts in the Victoria Tunnel, and an additional five hidden shafts. A drain also runs down the length of the tunnel, but this has collapsed in certain places. 

Both tunnels were constructed because the city of Liverpool is built on a densely populated escarpment (a long, steep slope) that drops down to the River Mersey. This meant building on the surface would have been difficult without causing major disruption, but also that the landscape was ideal for the construction of a line that could be placed beneath the ground. Nevertheless, cutting both tunnels still proved to be a difficult task as care had to be taken to avoid disturbing the buildings above due to their shallow depth. The work from Byrom Street eastwards proved the most difficult and perilous and, despite efforts to excavate carefully, the soft clay in the area caused several houses to give way, rendering them uninhabitable. All the inhabitants were forced to abandon their homes at short notice. What this means is that the design of the tunnel – becoming two separate structures – was a result of circumstance.

The first goods traffic travelled through the tunnels in August 1849. However, a three-foot section of Victoria Tunnel collapsed in September 1852. The collapse was quickly repaired and the tunnels were used by goods traffic without any further major incidents until 1899, when a freight train consisting of a tank, twenty-three loaded wagons and a brake van separated when a coupling between the seventh and eighth wagons fractured. Two wagons and the van were destroyed in the incident, and two of the three men aboard were killed. A train that was travelling towards the docks was also caught up in the accident as it collided with the debris and partially derailed. 

Although both the Waterloo and Victoria Tunnel were initially part of a freight line, they were opened to passenger traffic in 1895. Passenger services continued to run up until February 1971. Many of the large docks in Liverpool ‘dried up’ as they were affected by declining industry across the UK and this resulted in a significant decrease in traffic on the line. Both tunnels were officially closed on 19th November 1972; although, a small section of the Edge Hill line was retained as a headshunt. It is rumoured that this track is still used very occasionally today. Whether this is true or not, though, is another matter.

The futures of both the Waterloo and Victoria Tunnel are uncertain. However, the Merseyrail Network have proposed to use part of them to create a connection to the low-level Liverpool Central Station. Creating the connection would reduce journey times to Edge Hill. Unfortunately, though, so far all plans have fallen through due to some local opposition and budget constraints. The last attempt to revive the line was made in 2007, driven by plans to redevelop the north shore area of Liverpool. 

Our Version of Events

After meeting up with a couple of Liverpool based explorers, and hitting an old industrial site first, we decided to head over to the Waterloo/Victoria Tunnel. It was good to meet a couple of locals for a change because they both had an exceptional knowledge of the area – something we lack when it comes to exploring in Liverpool, unfortunately. Anyway, this saved us having to do much research and scouting for a change. So, thanks fellas!

When we initially rocked up outside our chosen access point, several Network Rail guys were busy standing around a couple of shovels and one guy down a hole. Rather than leave and come back, though, we decided to sit in the car and wait for them to fuck off. Our patience paid off pretty quickly since the boys in orange decided to down tools literally five minutes after we’d parked up. Once they’d left, we gave them an additional five minutes before we grabbed our gear and made our way into the tunnels, to account for any of them who might have left their beloved tape measure or spirit level behind. 

The first tunnel, the Waterloo Tunnel, smelt strongly of tar or creosote. We weren’t sure of the source, but the floor was fairly manky, giving an indication that there may have been a recent spillage. That, however, was perhaps the most interesting part of this section of the explore. All in all, it didn’t seem especially exceptional – even if it was quite wide. Hoping the explore would be better in the latter half, then, we cracked on and made our way towards the open-air section. 

As several other reports have revealed, the open-air section/accident between the two tunnels is full of shit. It seems Liverpool folk don’t bother visiting the local tip, they simply lob their old goodies off the bridge on Fontenoy Street. Anyone seeking spare lawnmower parts, or a second-hand seatee, should get themselves straight down to the Waterloo Tunnel. Sadly, we didn’t need either, so we had to clamber over the mountain of shit instead, to reach the Victoria Tunnel on the other side. 

Once inside the Victoria Tunnel, we began our long walk towards Edge Hill Station. At this point, we weren’t aware how long the bloody thing is, but it soon became clear to us that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t getting much closer any time soon. Nevertheless, we plodded on, heading towards the small dot of light in the far distance. The Victoria Tunnel was much more interesting that its sister. A large proportion of it is brick-lined, but there are also large unlined sections that have simply been carved out. There are several ventilation shafts to look at along the way too, and each one is different to the last. It’s only now, having been inside the Victoria Tunnel, that we understand what a few of the random structures are on the surface directly above. Finally, the tunnel ends with a short section of railway track that is still in situ, which is always nice to find. The only things to be careful of down this end are Network Rail workers and, so we have been told, a camera waiting for unsuspecting visitors to the tunnel. 

Explored with Veryhighguy and The J Man. 
 

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