Footsteps on the Bluff
Magnum Travel, Inc.
Kathy Noltze, President
Air pressure changed as the train descended into the tunnel; outside its windows all went black, and I expelled my breath. Being underwater is not the same as being submerged, I told myself. Even so, I reviewed my escape plan in case this 127-year-old underwater tunnel suddenly flooded. If I successfully navigate other passengers–that fat guy better be quick–and if I force open the carriage doors–never mind that I can't force open pickle jars–I will go down, not up. A culvert between the rail tracks is continuously pumped to clear out water from a spring beneath the tunnel. That's where I'd swim to be pumped out. No matter that I don't swim.
Severn Tunnel links southern Wales to western England under the River Severn Estuary. Construction on it started in 1873 and completed in 1885. Just how conscientious were those engineers, I wondered. Did they build to code? Did they even have a code in 1873?
Several bullets struck the train in WWII when the Nazis tried to annihilate it. The driver sped at rates exceeding war-time restrictions to successfully reach Severn Tunnel. He kept the train under the river until he deemed the airplane was gone. No one was injured.
The tunnel is over four miles long, of which only two and a quarter are under the river.
Nowadays, the tunnel and its pumping station are constantly inspected to verify soundness. Of course, they have a passenger evacuation plan in event of emergencies; my escape plan was needless, lucky for the fat guy.
The River Avon flows through a gorge that slices into a limestone ridge in western England. It began about 350 million years ago when ice diverted the river's course. More recently, like three centuries ago, builders quarried stone in the gorge to construct buildings. Contemporary hikers climb the quarries nowadays and also use the obsolete towpath along the river for their rambles. A major road runs along the river through the gorge, as well as two railroads.
Clifton Suspension Bridge
Just how good were these engineers of old, I thought, as I slogged up a hill to Clifton Suspension Bridge on a cloudy day in the UK. They built the bridge for pedestrians and horse traffic. Would I tumble to my demise with the trucks that crossed it?
This icon for the city of Bristol spans Avon Gorge. It is 702 feet long and 250 feet above the River Avon at high tide. It weighs 1500 tons. Construction of it began in 1831 but was not completed until long after its engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, had passed away.
Just ten years ago, Brits discovered that the buttress on the Leigh Woods side is not solid. Brunel designed it to have twelve vaulted chambers which are linked by shafts and tunnels. Apparently this does not compromise the integrity of the bridge. How did he know that?
In the early 19th Century, did they have codes for motor vehicle traffic, I wondered as I stepped gingerly. Would I be the straw that broke the camel's back?
The bridge didn't crack or even sway. Kudos to Brunel for his precision calculations.