Welcome for tram plan and new Thames tunnel

AN innovative technique which would see blocks of a projected tunnel floated down the Thames and sunk into a dredged trench lie at the heart of a new tram scheme being proposed to link Thurrock with the Kent riverside across the Thames.

Councillors from Kent, together with council and transport representatives including a Thurrock strategic transport officer, developers and investors were at a breakfast briefing in Gravesend when they were updated about the planned project known as KenEx.

The scheme is perceived as a significant local answer to traffic congestion on both sides of the river, and its backers believe it could reduce traffic at the Dartford Crossing by up to ten per cent.

Attendees at this week’s meeting, which was hosted by the Arriva Bus Company who are throwing their weight behind the scheme as part of the local transport infrastructure, were briefed on projected government support for the scheme – and how the link tunnel between Grays and Gravesend will be created.

They were told that on Monday 23 April the KenEx team received a very positive reception as a presentation was made to MPs and light rail specialists attending a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group.

Among those present for the briefing was Dartford Mayor Cllr David More who said the project was a welcome initiative and added: “It was interesting to hear about companies working together to more effectively connect communities with an integrated public transport offering.”

Others who welcomed the initiative included Alex Hills of the Kent branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, while Chris Vinson of rail operators  Southeastern  trains recognised the benefits of transport providers working together, a comment echoed by representatives from venue hosts Arriva.

Local councillors also expressed approval, including Swanscombe and Greenhithe town councillor Lorna Cross who welcomed the initiative and recognised the benefits of a fast, local and environmentally friendly transport system to residents in a rapidly expanding area.

Landfall for the tunnel in Thurrock is in Grays. Options to extend the service east and west through the borough are being considered.

As part of the presentation Gordon Pratt, MD of Thames Gateway Tramlink Ltd, said: “Public and Government concern about air pollution and climate change is today very much in the news. The KenEx team are very proud to be part of the solution.  

“Having now had our tunnel feasibility for a sustainable transport solution under the Thames confirmed by international experts we are very pleased that another significant step forward has been achieved by the project.

“By following many other countries in not relying on a road tunnel KenEx can lower pollution and provide an efficient, inclusive and sustainable rapid transport solution for all.”

Tunnel expert Prof Lewis Lesley briefed attendees on the tunnel technology, which has already been successful employed at a number of locations around the world – and closer to home on the River Medway.

“Based on present knowledge, construction of a new river crossing at the proposed location as an immersed tunnel appears feasible. When comparing with recently constructed immersed tunnels in Denmark (Copenhagen, Øresund), Sweden (Stockholm, Söderström and Gothenburg, Marieholm) and the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Metro North-South Line), the site conditions for the KenEx tram appear well suited for an immersed tunnel.

Immersive tunnel blocks are built off site, floated into place and then sunk and linked.

“Ground conditions, environmental impact and navigational aspects, will of course influence the specific details around tunnel construction.  However, from our initial observations during the site visit recently, we would expect that these can be addressed by suitable planning, design and construction.

“We consider that the proposal has great merit and is certainly feasible” said Damian McGirr, a director of construction company COWI UK.

The two bore tunnel would carry the link from Kent to Grays, with options currently being explored on how and where to extend it across Thurrock. The tunnel is projected to be close to Thurrock Yacht Club, giving easy access to Grays town centre and nearby rail station – with improved facilities being provided as part of the scheme for the waterside yacht club.

The Grays link would offer a quick, direct route from Thurrock to Ebbsfleet, Bluewater,Dartford and Gravesend .