- Hits: 1388
The (Higham and) Strood tunnel is 3.5 km (2.2 mi) long originally part of the Thames & Medway Canal, it was the second longest canal tunnel built in the UK (the longest is the Standedge ). It was also the largest: 10.7 m (35 ft) high from arch to canal bed, 6.6 m (21.5 ft) wide at the water line, a further 1.5 m (5 ft) wide at towpath level, and had water 2.4 m (8 ft) deep.
These dimensions could accommodate a 61 tonne sailing barge with its mast lowered.
In 1819 work commenced on the 2¼ mile tunnel between Higham and Strood and after 5 years of digging the tunnel finally opened on October 14th,1824.The tunnel was dug through the chalk using only hand tools and was considered an engineering wonder of its time.
On the opening of the tunnel, a small steam passage boat was employed for the conveyance of passengers from Gravesend to Rochester, and vice versa; but as it was found to injure the towing-path of the tunnel, as well as the banks of the canal, it was discontinued. However foot passengers still used the tunnel.
From 1845 the newly built railway between Gravesend and Strood shared the tunnel with the canal, a single track resting partially on the towpath and partially on wooden stakes in the water.
In 1846 the canal company sold the tunnel to the South Eastern Railway company, which filled the canal in and laid a double railway track over it. This was part of the North Kent Line. The canal towing contactor's home was converted into the ticket office for Higham railway station.
However fears of a chalk fall were not unfounded. Over the years, there have been many roof falls, most small. But in December 1999 a fall near Strood derailed a train, fortunately without causing serious injuries (but leaving a hole in the ground in an orchard). Some 60% of the tunnel had by this date been lined: in 2004 it was closed to line the remainder and renew the track, reopening a year later on 17 January 2005.