South London’s Abandoned Tube Tunnel

Thanks to how the tube network was built by the early private entrepreneurs, there are dotted around the place a fair number of disused shafts and tunnels which attract the curious minds – and occasional physical visits.

Although South London has but a few tube lines, and they are as scarce as a black cab after midnight, there is still the odd bit of abandoned tunnel even south of the river. One such tunnel is also comparatively modern, having been dug in the early 1970s, then abandoned after just a couple of years.

A short stretch of tube tunnel that leads from nowhere to nowhere, next to the East London Line but not connected to it, this was an experimental tunnel dug as part of the original Fleet Line plans.

As tube history fans will be aware, most of the original plans to extend what is now called the Jubilee Line involved a line running through the city of London and over towards Wapping, then down through the East London Line tunnel, and then variously either towards Lewisham, or over towards Thamesmead via the Isle of Dogs.

Being fairly sure where the Fleet Line would run, they decided to build one short stretch of the future tunnel in order to test how the recently invented Bentonite Shield would work in the softer water logged soils of South London without using compressed air.

The length of tunnel driven was 144 meters, from a hexagonal shaft  that was 19.6m deep. The tunnelling machine was delivered to the site on 12 December 1971, and the first drive attempt took place on 24 February 1972.

As we know, the Fleet Line extension was never built as planned at the time, and later the renamed Jubilee Line skirted round South London and to the northern end of the Isle of Dogs. But that early stretch of  tunnel is still there under the New Cross streets –  abandoned, covered up and largely forgotten.

This is roughly where the tunnel starts – deep under this railway bridge.

One end of the Fleet Line test tunnel

And here is the other end – somewhere under this sealed off yard.

Other end of the Fleet Line test tunnel

Although the experimental tunnel itself lead nowhere, it does have a heritage, as it proved the viability of the Bentonite Shield, which is still used – in modified versions – when tunnelling through water soaked soils.

Google map link with the abandoned tunnel marked on it

Schematic of local transport services

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11 comments on “South London’s Abandoned Tube Tunnel
  1. doreen says:

    Very cool. I love hearing about abandoned bits of the tube, and this one is particularly curious in how the tunnel isn’t linked to any tube stations, past or present.

  2. Tom Nixon says:

    Very cool! Do we know for sure it was built? Is there any access tunnels or photos of inside the tunnel?

    • IanVisits says:

      As mentioned above, 1971-1972.

      I don’t have any photos of the interior despite hunting around on/off for a year or so. There seems to be surprisingly little engineering documentation for the tunnel.

      • Shine says:

        Just came across your website, I was an engineer on the new ELL and can tell you that an Asset inspection of the tunnel was undertaken in around 2010 in which gallons of water had to be pumped out. The start of the tunnels is actually in the Milton Road RRAP and can be seen as the fenced line in the top end of the site.
        The photos which TfL should have will show the tunnel after it was pumped out and the TBM still inside, maybe you could ask for them via FOI.

  3. Steveo says:

    I’ve visited London from the US 12-14 times in my life and love everything about the underground tubes. Thanks!

  4. jonny says:

    Boring twat have you nothing more pressing to attend. Dullest nonsense I have ever had the misfortune to stumble upon

    • Adso says:

      Boring twat, have you nothing more pressing to attend to than leaving moronic, poorly-espressed comments on people’s websites?

  5. anthony says:

    im fascinated as the photos you have taken and the route on the map shows that the tunnel is directly under my garden !!!! this is well fascinating

  6. Graham says:

    Most interesting. One hopes that in the future someone will consider opening the tunnel to allow the interested to look inside or re-using it for a future line.

  7. Andrew Ford says:

    This tunnel has an interesting history. It was built under the link which originally connected the “Up” Southern Region with the LT East London Line for use by Eastern Region freight/parcels and excursion trains but as a result of the Beeching cuts this was removed in 1968, although actual use would have ceased after the abolition of the BR connection at Shoreditch in April 1966. The linings for this experimental tunnel were stored in the coal yard at Eagle Lane, between Snaresbrook and South Woodford on the Central Line. From 1967 until 1972 I attended secondary school not far from this location and passed the site daily and recall in detail all of the changes to redundant trackwork following the withdrawal of ER freight trains in 1966. However, Eagle Lane did not succumb to any such rationalisation [c.1969] except on the western side of the electrified lines. The long headshunt which was on the South Woodford signal box side and in full public view was relaid with more robust looking track but without any ballast. Although the coal yard was still road served and open for business, there were at least two tracks that continued to penetrate this area but not where the coal staithes were situated. While attempts had been made to camouflage the stacked linings with what seemed to be breeze block walls it was obvious to a rail enthusiast what they were. When I asked a ticket collector at South Woodford what was happening, he replied that the linings were for a new tube tunnel in New Cross. I can only assume that these casts were taken to the site at New Cross by battery or ER locomotive via the West London Lines over an extended period This would be about 1970 when the Leyton BR link was still open. There also remained connections between BR and the East London Line at New Cross Gate in the sidings and with the down SR for engineering purposes until 1972 when a dispute broke out, and quite a public one at that, between LT, GLC and BR accountants regarding maintenance/operating costs of keeping these points in situ. This was covered by the press at the time. Some brief publicity appeared on completion of the tunnel including a photograph. Some years later, it was announced that it would be used for “storage”. I suspect that the security threat posed nowadays has led to its existence becoming a more sensitive issue.

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