Toxic Tunnel

Yesterday saw the commencement of the Toxic Charge for London. Anyone driving a vehicle not coming up to the stringent standards set by Transport for London can now expect a hefty surcharge on top of the Congestion Charge.

But the single most offensive assault on one’s olfactory receptors is to be found in the Rotherhithe Tunnel approached via the inspirationally named road – Branch Road.

[Y]es it actually is a branch off from Commercial Road named Branch Road; then driving forward into Tunnel Approach to reach our subterranean airless river crossing. The lack of original thought doesn’t end with the road names, we are informed that the designer of this Edwardian tunnel is a Maurice Fitzmaurice.

Upon entering the tunnel two things become immediately apparent. After the first 100 yards down a gentle slope, there is a dog-leg to the left. This gentle slope was necessary for horses to be able to carry their burden and the sharp turn was to stop those same horses bolting when they literally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. There is another sharp bend at the other end serving the same purpose.

There is a 20mph limit imposed, reinforced by using speed cameras, and with good purpose.

The second feature of this tunnel is that you cannot breathe, and feel the need to bolt to the other end, in the manner of the aforementioned horses.

When built and opened by the future George V in 1908, it was regarded as a great success even though 3,000 people lost their homes. As the inscription above the entrance reminds us, most vehicular traffic was horse-drawn, presumably with just the occasional car. The aroma of horse manure must have been exquisite, compared to the noxious fumes which fill this mile-long tunnel. Four ventilation shafts designed for 2,600 vehicles a day during the Edwardian era, now struggle vainly with the exhaust fumes from 34,000 daily journeys.

Realising I’ve survived this ordeal by carbon monoxide reaching Culling Circus is always a relief. This small, curiously named roundabout must have got its title from the tunnel’s ability to kill motorists who dwell too long in its cavernous bowels.

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