Copenhagen Tunnel

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Copenhagen Tunnel
Copenhagen South Portals.jpg
Copenhagen Tunnel southern portals
LineEast Coast Main Line
Coordinates51°32′45″N 0°07′14″W / 51.5457°N 0.1206°W / 51.5457; -0.1206
OS grid reference
  • Original bore: operational
  • Second bore: operational
  • Third bore: road access
SystemNational Rail
  • Original bore: 1850 (1850)
  • Second bore: 1877
  • Third bore: 1886
No. of stationsNone
OwnerNetwork Rail
Design engineerThomas Brassey
Length543 m (1,781 ft)
No. of tracks4 (6 until 1970s)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Electrified25 kV 50 Hz AC
Copenhagen Tunnel
East Coast Main Line
To Finsbury Park
Down Slow & Down Fast
Up Fast & Up Slow
Northern portals
Copenhagen Jn
North London line
Down & Up Slow
Down & Up Fast
To King's Cross

The Copenhagen Tunnel is a set of three parallel railway tunnels carrying the main line tracks out of London's King's Cross terminus under the rising ground at Barnsbury, about a mile north of the station. Each bore has the capacity for two tracks. The eastern tunnel was taken out of railway service in the 1970s but is maintained to ensure the integrity of the ground overhead, and provides road vehicle access to Holloway Bank. The tunnel is just over a third of a mile (543 metres) long.[1]

The first of the multiple tunnels was built as part of the construction of the Great Northern Railway and was opened in 1850. This section of the railway was designed by the engineer Thomas Brassey and was built by Pearce and Smith and John Jay. The name is taken from Copenhagen Fields, an open space directly above the tunnels, that was once the location of the Ambassador of Denmark's residence in the 17th century. This became a popular pleasure garden and was a public meeting area, notable for rioting there in the late 18th century.[2][3] From this site on 21 April 1834 thousands marched in support of The Tolpuddle Martyrs who had been sentenced to transportation to Australia for forming a trade union.[4] Market Road Gardens, an open space directly above the tunnels, are a present-day surviving remnant of the Fields.

The area above the southern tunnel portal was used for a rail line going to the Caledonian Road Coal and Goods Depot (now Bunning Street) which passed along the parapet of the tunnel entrance. This was situated conveniently close to the Metropolitan Cattle Market, located on the ground above the tunnels from 1855 to 1963. Many trains carried cattle along this line on their last journey to the abattoirs there.[5]

The area above the southern parapet was the setting for the final scenes of the 1955 British film comedy, The Ladykillers.[6]

The original tunnel is now the middle of three parallel bores. A second tunnel to the west was built in 1877 and a third one to the east in 1886. The western bore carried up and down goods traffic, the central one was used for down passenger traffic and the eastern bore was used for up passenger traffic.

Following electrification in the 1970s, the layout was remodelled. By this time both Kings Cross Goods Yard and Top Shed had closed so it was possible to remove the goods lines and simplify the layout.

In the current configuration, the lines approaching the tunnel from the north are grouped into Up Fast & Slow and Down Fast & Slow. Immediately before the northern portal the Up Slow is carried over the Up & Down Fast lines by an overbridge to join the Down Slow line so the central bore now carries the Up and Down Fast lines;[1][7] the western bore carries the Up and Down Slow lines.[1][7] The tracks in the eastern bore were lifted and it is now used to carry cables and provide occasional road access.

From Belle Isle, just south of Copenhagen Tunnel all four lines become bidirectional[1][7] before passing through Gasworks Tunnel to King's Cross station.


  1. ^ a b c d Network Rail (3 September 2016). London North Eastern Sectional Appendix LN101 Seq 002. Module LN2. p. 12.
  2. ^ Copenhagen, Islington Hidden London, Accessed December 2014.
  3. ^ Copenhagen Fields The Model Railway Club, Accessed December 2014.
  4. ^ Plaque: Tolpuddle Martyrs at Copenhagen Fields 2014 London Remembers. Accessed December 2014.
  5. ^ Caledonian Road Goods Depot The LNER Encyclopedia, December 2005, Accessed December 2014
  6. ^ The Ladykillers film locations Film , Accessed December 2014
  7. ^ a b c Quail Maps. Map#2 - England: East. [page 14] Feb 1998. Retrieved 2016-05-25.

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