Tunnelling protects Northumbrian heritage site

15 November 2023

Underground tunnelling to lay a new water pipe has protected a historic railway in Northumberland.

The Northumbrian Water project involves laying pipes to connect a new £56m underground reservoir with its existing water network.

The new 800mm pipe passes beneath the Bowes Railway Company Hauler site which forms part of the wider Scheduled Ancient Monument. Using a TBM, Northumbrian Water’s partner, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), avoided the need to excavate a trench through the railway line of the near-200-year-old site.

The line, which opened in 1826, was a colliery railway carrying coal from the pits of North East Durham to the Tyne at Jarrow. Its earliest section was designed by rail pioneer George Stephenson.

Northumbrian Water’s new reservoir is being built at nearby Springwell Village. It will provide water storage for around 50,000 households in the area and support supplies for a further 200,000 homes in South Tyneside and Wearside by increasing the resilience of the water network.

Pupils from Springwell Village Primary School named the TBM Georgia, in honour of Stephenson’s involvement.

Northumbrian Water project manager Richard Johnston said: “As with many projects where we are creating a new water pipeline, there are points where the route needs to cross busy roads or other areas that provide a challenge and require sensitivity. A site with the significance of the Bowes Incline Railway SAM is no different, so we wanted to approach it with extreme delicacy and tunnelling provided the opportunity to make the crossing without disturbance to this wonderful piece of heritage.”