The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway has a place in history as it was the first steam railway in the world to carry passengers on a regular basis. It was opened in May 1830 and known locally as the ‘Crab and Winkle’ line, after the seafood that could be found at the northern terminus at Whitstable.
The route had to pass over, round or through the high ground at Tyler Hill and a tunnel was chosen - the first in the world to accommodate passenger trains. It was completed in 1826 and was 828 yards in length. Initially, motive power was a combination of horses, cables and the Invicta locomotive, designed by George Stephenson. By 1844, locomotive haulage had been introduced along the whole of the railway. The small profile of the tunnel meant that special locomotives and rolling stock had to be used.
The line closed in 1952 and in the 1960s the University of Kent at Canterbury was built above the tunnel. Unfortunately in 1974 this led to the collapse of part of the northern tunnel beneath the campus. The building above ironically included the engineering faculty! The portion of the tunnel affected was infilled with a small amount of concrete and a larger amount of ash.
In 2007, the tunnel was recognised and protected as a listed building, grade II*. The northern portal is blocked and the southern portal is gated but an important bat habitat. Local interest groups are keen for the tunnel to remain accessible and possibly used as a footpath or cycleway.