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Brunel museum waiting on East London Line bids

MAJOR EXPANSION of London's Brunel Museum moved closer this week with the deadline for tenders to upgrade and extend the East London Line.

Work on the museum in Rotherhithe has been in limbo waiting for the East London Line contract to be let in the summer. Contractors have until tomorrow to submit bids for the £900M main civils contract.

Once the contract is let, museum trustees will apply to London Underground for a lease on the empty launch shaft at the northern end of Marc Brunel's Thames Tunnel. Funds will then be sought to develop plans for a museum inside.

'Until the East London Line is contracted, London Underground cannot make a decision as contractors may need to use the space, ' explained trustee Alan Myers.

He said that the plans would see the 15m diameter, 13m deep brick-lined caisson shaft - designed and sunk by Marc and Isambard Brunel in 1825 - transformed into a museum and education centre to celebrate the work of the Brunels (see box).

This is the birthplace of tunnelling, ' said Myers.

'The Thames Tunnel is very much the starting point for IK Brunel's career. This is where he learnt - often the hard way - about political lobbying and motivating men.' Three bidders are left in the race for the East London Line contract. Myers said that initial discussions had indicated that it was unlikely the shaft would be needed during work but a 'rm guarantee was needed before the project could move forward.

Spreading the word

The Brunel Engine House museum in Rotherhithe celebrates the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, his father Marc, and specifically their construction of the Thames Tunnel.

On 25 March 1843 the tunnel opened to pedestrian traffic - 18 years after work started. It was the 'rst tunnel constructed under a navigable river.

The technical difficulties of constructing this 406mlong tunnel were immense and saw several inundations - one of which almost drowned Isambard and saw him sent to Clifton to recover, a move that set the course of his illustrious engineering career.

But such was the excitement over this feat of engineering that over 50,000 visitors turned out on the first day of opening to walk through the tunnel, which saw two million visitors in the first year.

The museum was transformed in November last year with a grant to revamp the building and exhibits. But curator Robert Hulse has bigger plans.

'The Thames Tunnel was the most visited, talked about, sung about and discussed construction project in the world, ' said Hulse. 'It was IK Brunel's first project.

As a result of the bicentenary celebrations I hope that people will want to see more about where his career started.' Visit www. nceplus. co. uk for details.

Environment agency backs Clifton Crossing competition

THE ENVIRONMENT Agency this week agreed to back the NCE/University of Bristol Clifton Crossing Competition as part of its 10th anniversary celebrations, which coincide with the Brunel Bicentenary in April.

Prizes will now include a range of work experience placements to introduce students and school pupils to careers in engineering and the built environment.

Involvement in the competition by the Environment Agency will also help to emphasise the need for modern engineers to design sustainable infrastructure that works with and enhances the natural environment.

The Agency will also work closely with NCE and the University of Bristol to develop the public exhibition, summer school programme and Key Stage 2-4 lesson material that will follow the competition.

Some 460 teams from 26 different countries have registered to enter the Clifton Crossing Competition so far.

First prize is £5,000. Winners will be announced at a gala awards evening hosted by TV presenterAdam Hart Davis in Bristol on 6 July.

Closing date for entries is IK Brunel's birthday - Sunday 9 April. Visit www. uk for details.

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