Any Further Questions: Shaun Simmons
As the Tyne Tunnel celebrates 50 years since its opening in October 1967, and 10 years after unveiling its second tunnel, we speak to Shaun Simmons, Business Support Officer at TT2 Limited
How long have you been at the Tyne Tunnel?
I’ve been employed properly here 13 years, but I first came here on work experience at the age of 13. My father worked here as well – he’s been here over 20 years now. As I was growing up, looking at what my aspirations were, I always wanted to do what my dad was doing: working in the tunnel. It was very exciting, and that was one of the reasons I came here on work experience: to see what it was all about.
What has changed in the time you’ve been there?
There’s been a massive change in operations. The old tunnel opened in 1967 and as the traffic has grown it’s outgrown the capacity of the tunnel. In 2007, when TT2 came into existence to build the second tunnel, we were able to invest heavily in technology. When I came here we still had Toll Officers in the lanes giving change and vehicle examinations, and a lot of queues coming through. Every day you could guarantee a 45-minute wait just to get to the lanes down here.
So technology has helped.
It has. Now we have a vehicle identification system, so we can see when a car has stopped or is in the wrong lane. That system automatically alerts controllers. That’s a huge benefit to the staff being able to identify incidents and respond a lot quicker. The key focus is on our traffic flows, to make sure there are no stoppages or delays. We have 10 minutes to recover a car if it breaks down. If we go beyond those limits we pay a financial penalty.
What other systems do you have?
On the entire site there are over 150 different cameras, and they’re viewing everything as it’s happening. We have a system called VAID, a visual-audio incident detection. It identifies any changes, it’ll characterise what it is, then notify the control room staff how to resolve it. We also have our rapid response vehicles continuously going round the tunnels and ensuring if they see anything, it’s seen to straight away.
How many vehicles come through the tunnel?
At the minute, we average just over 50,000 cars a day. I believe before the new tunnel was opened we were seeing 36,000 vehicles a day pass through. In a short period of time we jumped up.
It must be an amazing place to work.
It’s mindboggling. If you think that the existing tunnel was built in 1967, and consider some of the mining techniques they used, they’re very different to the new tunnel, built in 2011. It is astonishing how man can build such structures. Since the age of 13 I’ve always been excited about the tunnel and what it does, and as I’ve started to learn the business and go through the experiences, I’ve learned it’s integral to the region. Being part of something that helps the region move is amazing. It has a sense of purpose to it.
What’s your favourite view in the North East?
When I was doing my degree to join the office side of the business, I used to go from work up to the centre of Newcastle three times a week. When you come down to the Law Courts and have the bridge below you, that is an amazing view.
What’s your favourite place to eat in the North East?
I don’t get out much having a young family, but when we do go out my wife and I go out to Babucho, on the Quayside. I like mussels, and sometimes a nice steak.
Where’s your favourite place to get a drink in the North East?
We like to go to Harry’s Bar, The Botanist and Florita’s in Newcastle. They’re a little bit more chilled out than many other places.