On January 7th 1941, an Australian engineer, Mr Kearney wrote to Mr Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary ‘I appeal to you to give me the necessary authority to complete arrangements with Portsmouth and Gosport Councils to construct a deep tube shelter between the two places to be used as a pedestrian subway in the meantime and as a shelter for 12,000 people.‘ the reply form the Home Secretary on January 23 was ‘.. the department is ready to consider proposals for deep shelters where it is practicable and expedient to construct them. it is however, for the local authority to consider such schemes in the first place in the light of their local suitability, in consultations where necessary with the technical staff of the Regional Commissioner.’
Mr Kearney was wanting the Home Office to encourage the two authorities to go ahead and to obtain a full 100 per cent grant for the proposal. On February 19 the Minister of Home Security confirmed ‘ that any proposals on the lines you suggest would in fact require to be submitted to him for consideration. The Minister considers it only fair to inform you, however, that, as at present advised, he thinks it unlikely s that such a plan would receive his approval.
Portsmouth War Emergency Committee considered the question of the Kearney tunnel under the harbour and the statement which had been made that there was a free offer of this work which would provide air raid accommodation for the people.
On Tuesday 21 February 1942 the Mayor of Gosport, Alderman Major C.F.O. Graham, addressed a crowded meeting at the Thorngate Halls to propose thanks to Mr. E.W. Chalmers Kearney for his presentation on the possibilities of building a high speed tube railway across the harbour to connect Portsmouth and Gosport.
The Mayor stated: ‘I think we have been patient in Gosport in the was in which we have put up with the present system compared with the ideas which have just been placed before us’.
Mr Kearney presented the idea of a high speed tube railway from two points points of view, primarily as a link between the two towns and secondly as a shelter in connection with air raid precautions.
He explained that an act had been passed that empowered local authorities to construct tunnels and other shelters for use in an emergency and the Home Office had consented to this work being commenced at once. ‘ If we can get out a scheme which will combine adequate A.R.P. measures and this high speed tube railway to connect Gosport and Portsmouth I am sure it would meet all your desires.’
His scheme involved constructing surface or shallow cut and cover stations for an underground railway which would employ Kearney tubes. these required no lifts or escalators. the cost of construction due to the use of shallow stations was reduced by 30 per cent; the cost of operating owing to the use of one in seven accelerating and retarding gradients was reduced by 40 to 50 per cent; the speed of the train was practically doubled.
These factors combined to ensure the fastest possible urban transit at the lowest possible fares and such service would in turn ensure an adequate return on capital.
The tunnel beneath the harbour, circular in section and 14ft in diameter, was to have had a clearance of about 60ft between the bed of the Harbour and the top of the tube. The Admiralty engineers informed Kearny that that this put the scheme outside any possible interference with shipping.
In the Kearney system the trains ran on a single rail and were kept in the upright position by a single overhead guide rail, which also supplied the electrical power. the cars were thereby held secure under all conditions and could not be derailed.
The single rail could be sunk in the floor of the tube like a tram rail leaving, for A.R.P. purposes, a clear footway on either side about thirty inches wide.
A kerb six inches high on the outside of each path forms a step up to a continuous bench fitted along each side of the tube and a second tier of benches could be fitted. With double rows of seats on each side 16,000 persons could be seated per mile of single tube and there would be standing room for at least another 9,000. under London conditions the cost of such a tube railway should not exceed £5000,000 per mile at current prices. The stations might also be used as shelters since those built on the surface could be protected by a framed building above containing several floors of reinforced concrete and the stations constructed below ground could be provided with suitable protection against direct hits from bombs. Intercommunicating passages, which might be fitted with canteens etc could be cut in the tunnels.
Answering questions Mr Kearney said he estimated the cost of a tube connecting Gosport to Portsmouth would be from £3000,000 to £350,000, including A.R.P. provisions and equipment. The high speed train would complete the journey in less than a minute and a three minute service in each direction could be maintained.
Mr. Kearney said he had been in contact with the Admiralty and they viewed the construction of such a tube with interest and favour and as a means of getting their workmen to and from the Dockyard.
Accommodation could be provided on the trains for bicycles, perambulators and small handcarts. A tube across the harbour would take about a year to complete, but within three weeks of the start of the work it could provide some shelter, which would increase as the work proceeded.
The meeting gave unanimous approval to a proposition by Lieut-Colonel C. S. Davies and Councillor P. Phillips requesting the Borough Council to appoint a Committee to consider the proposal and to approach Portsmouth Corporation with a view to obtaining its cooperation in investigating the possibilities of the scheme.
Kearney later explained in a letter dated 15 July 1941 that ‘Americans, friends and admirers of the people of Portsmouth at their staunch resistance to the onslaughts of the foe were ready to subscribe the whole cost for at least one section of deep tube shelter which would be available after the War for a rapid means of transit between Gosport and Portsmouth.‘
Gosport to Portsmouth was not the only place that Kearney proposed for his scheme. In the 1920s F. W. Chalmers Kearney, an engineer of some repute, proposed an underground tube system linking Tynemouth and South Shields. The tube, under the River Tyne, was to carry high-speed electric monorail cars. Kearney claimed the system had the ability to surmount steep gradients, which reduced the length of tunnel and removed the need for underground stations. At the time it was claimed that the journey time between stations would be only 50 seconds from start to finish and that a passenger train would run each way every three-and-a-half minutes. There would also be a second wider tunnel taking all classes of road traffic every seven minutes and that the tube carriages, probably four, would each be able to carry up to 100 passengers and reach speeds of up to 60 mph. It was single line and there would only be one set of carriages, which would pull into the station, unload, reload and then, without the need to turn, just head back down the line. Kearney said that the tube would be ready in 12 months from the start of construction and be able to carry nine million passengers per year.
The cost would be pounds £300,000 and although he was asking the local councils for some guarantees, he stressed that in the long run it would not cost them a penny and all the money would be raised in London. The fare would be 2p until the Loan Capital had been paid, when the fare could be reduced to 1d.
Kearney also proposed a vehicle tube, twice the width, which would carry a two carriage train, able to carry six cars each. It would also be able to carry vehicles up to the size of a double-decker bus.
A 100ft working model of the project was installed at the Casino, in South Shields. The system under the Tyne was granted a Provisional Order in 1926 by the Ministry of Transport, authorising its construction and the hunt for investors into the scheme began.
Unfortunately, some aspects of this ambitious scheme were subject to local objections and the Bill was rejected by the House of Commons on the second reading.
Having failed at Tyne Kearney tried at Portsmouth, with the same result.
Elfric Wells Chalmers Kearney (3 February 1881 – 15 April 1966)
He was educated privately in Australia and briefly in the United Kingdom at Ellesmere College, Shropshire in 1894. He was an Honorary Technical Advisor to the Agent-General for Victoria, Australia. He was an Engineer and Managing Director of the Kearney High-Speed Tube Railway Company Ltd (a venture which promoted the construction of a Kearney Tube system across London from Cricklewood and Strand to Crystal Palace) and the Kearney Railway Construction Company Ltd. Kearney was the inventor of the Kearney High-Speed Railway, a railway motor wheel, a stepless subway station, and he also developed an improved system of tube railways construction that greatly reduced costs. At least two models of the system were built, in 1905 and 1908. He exhibited a working model of his system to a company of engineers and others in June 1908. The model was subsequently tested and approved of by the Board of Trade when it attained a speed of over 20 miles an hour, a pace never before equalled with a model railway of similar size. He then exhibited a working model of the mono-tube at the Crystal Palace in 1910 . A full-sized carriage body was constructed by Brush Electrical Engineering Co. Ltd at Loughborough, which was apparently later destroyed by fire in suspicious circumstances. As an advocate of this tube system, he built in 1920 a full-size monorail car and promoted a tube railway to be built on the Kearney system between North and South Shields.
Sources: Various newspaper articles:
The Times 1912
Hampshire Telegraph 18 July 1941
Portsmouth Evening News 22 February 1942
Nov 22 1952