Irish Sea fixed crossing

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The Irish Sea fixed crossing is a proposed tunnel or bridge that would link the islands of Ireland and Great Britain via the Irish Sea. If a tunnel, it may be a railway tunnel, similar to the Channel Tunnel beneath the English Channel.

Possible routes[edit]

Possible routes for an Irish Sea tunnel

Four possible routes have at different times been identified, the first two taken together as North Channel routes. These are:

A fifth route, via the Isle of Man, would require two tunnels, but has never been seriously considered due to length and difficult geology. [1][unreliable source?]

North Channel (Kintyre) route[edit]

This is the shortest route at around 19 km (12 mi), from the Mull of Kintyre to County Antrim but is very unlikely to be adopted. It would mean constructing a railway or improved roads (or both) following a roundabout route through some mountainous terrain, mainly in Scotland, but to some extent also in Northern Ireland, and also needing further undersea tunnels in Scotland. If it ever were adopted, passengers would to a high degree still use ferries and aircraft, since it would be a big detour for trains from England. Trains would have to go via Glasgow and around 155mi (250km) further to reach Belfast. Even if the High Speed 2 railway is fully built, the travel time London-Belfast would not be below 4 hours. Car travellers from England would have much shorter driving distance when using the traditional ferry routes.

North Channel (Galloway) route[edit]

This route has been proposed both as either a tunnel or a bridge.[1]

If a tunnel was chosen, this would mean tunnelling from near Portpatrick to a point north or south of Belfast Lough.

This would result in a shorter tunnel than the southern routes (34 km/21 mi), and one within the United Kingdom, though the Irish government and the European Union might contribute funds, nevertheless. However, because of the Beaufort's Dyke sea trench, this route would be deeper than the southern routes.

In general, travel to Belfast would benefit from this route. The London to Belfast distance would be about 466mi (750km) taking about 3½ hours on a high-speed train. This route would improve travel from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, and most English cities, to Belfast and Dublin.

The Dublin-Belfast-Glasgow-Edinburgh route would be possible. However, the route between the two capitals (London-Dublin) would be indirect. If a high speed Dublin-Belfast railway (160 km) is also built, this route would take four to five hours, making it hard to compete with air travel.

It is believed that such a project was considered by railway engineer Luke Livingston Macassey in the 1890s as "a rail link using either a tunnel, a submerged "tubular bridge" or a solid causeway".[2]

Irish Mail route[edit]

This route is perhaps the most logical, as it provides a more direct connection with the capital of the Republic of Ireland Dublin.[2]

Tuskar route[edit]

The Institute of Engineers of Ireland's 2004 Vision of Transport in Ireland in 2050 imagines a tunnel to be built between the ports of Fishguard and Rosslare[3] along with a new container port on the Shannon Estuary, linking a freight line to Europe. This report also includes ideas for a Belfast-Dublin-Cork high-speed train, and for a new freight line from Rosslare to Shannon.

Although London-Dublin and London-Belfast routes would be competitive with air travel, subject to ticket prices, routes from central and northern England and Scotland to Ireland would probably not be competitive.

On the British side, a high-speed line duplicating the Great Western Main Line has been proposed.[4][5][6] However, this would be likely to be a lower priority than one running between London, Birmingham and the North West, duplicating the West Coast Main Line. Congestion through the Severn Tunnel is already so great that much freight from the Welsh ports travels a circuitous route via Gloucester; the increased traffic generated by an Irish Sea Tunnel would demand a new crossing of the Severn Estuary.

Recent proposals for a barrage across the mouth of the River Severn have included the option of running a new road and rail crossing between Cardiff and Bristol, which would help this issue.

The M4 motorway ends near Llanelli. Any motorway extension would pass through rural areas and close to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which would generate opposition; however, terminals could be located further inland.

As the IEI's report notes "[This report's object] was to cast a vision, essentially an optimistic vision, of transport in Ireland in the middle of this twenty-first century". It also includes a second English Channel Tunnel.

History and politics[edit]

Linking Britain to Ireland by tunnel was first suggested in 1890[7] and again in 1897,[8] with a British application for £15,000 towards the cost of carrying out borings and soundings in the North Channel to see if a tunnel between Ireland and Scotland was viable. The link would have been of immense commercial benefit, was significant strategically and would have meant faster transatlantic travel from Britain, via Galway and other Irish ports. Sixty years later Harford Hyde, Unionist MP for North Belfast, called for a tunnel to be built.[9]

In 1994 the Channel Tunnel opened between Great Britain and France. Technical challenges of constructing a tunnel were overcome. However, the Channel Tunnel was delivered overbudget and predicted traffic levels have never materialised.

A tunnel project has been discussed several times in Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament).[10][11][12][13] and in the British parliament.[14]

Economics and politics[edit]

Half the air traffic at Dublin Airport is to Britain, with 8,300,000 passengers per annum. The Dublin to London-Heathrow air route is one of the busiest international routes with 1.974 million passengers in 2007, and there were about 12.3 million air passengers between the Republic and the United Kingdom (2007).[15]

The Channel Tunnel has failed so far to generate the original passenger numbers expected (partially because of low cost airlines – an industry which did not exist when the project was underway). It now has nine million passengers per year, more than air travel, if only counting those who have destinations near London, Paris or Brussels.

The Channel Tunnel also illustrates the funding problem that a tunnel cannot be built and funded in stages, so cost over-runs (such as experienced on the Channel Tunnel) cannot be spread over time. Construction would also take a long time to complete, so the project would be an expensive, long-term, high risk investment.

Opposition to the tunnel might be mounted by powerful corporate interests, particularly ferry companies, shipping lines and airlines. NIMBY local interest groups and environmental groups might oppose individual infrastructure changes.

Various Irish government studies have concluded that an Irish Sea tunnel is, as yet, economically unfeasible. The benefit compared to air and ferry travel does not justify the cost.

Change of gauge and electrification[edit]

One of the challenges for an Irish Sea tunnel could be the break of gauge between the 1,435 mm standard gauge in Britain and the 1,600 mm Irish broad gauge.[16][17] In other projects, break of gauge problems have been overcome by transshipment,[18] building new standard gauge lines, regauging part of the existing network, the use of variable gauge axles[19] and by the use of dual/mixed gauge tracks.[20] For goods sold in shops, storage facilities are needed in order to sort items per shop, when the last transport to the shops is transported on road. Standard gauge track can be built to such storages near the tunnel. The problem is mainly for freight traffic. For passenger traffic it is assumed that a standard gauge railway would reach the main station of Belfast or Dublin, where most passengers would end their journey or change to local trains anyway.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Bridge to Northern Ireland mooted". BBC News. 22 August 2007. 
  2. ^ McKenzie, Steven (9 October 2011). "Scotland-Ireland undersea rail link plan 'a surprise'". BBC News – Highlands & Islands. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  3. ^ A Vision of Transport in Ireland in 2050, IEI report (pdf), The Irish Academy of Engineers, 21 December 2004.
  4. ^ First Great Western: trains, tickets, timetables for London, Bristol, Cardiff, West of England
  5. ^ "Rail firm considers 200mph trains". BBC News. 17 October 2002. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  6. ^ "Cardiff to London in just over an hour". BBC News. 17 October 2002. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  7. ^ "Scotland-Ireland undersea rail link plan 'a surprise'". BBC News. 9 October 2011. 
  8. ^ "Tunnel Under the Sea", The Washington Post, 2 May 1897 (Archive link)
  9. ^ "An Irishman's Diary" by Wesley Boyd, (Link), The Irish Times, Feb 2004 (subscription required)
  10. ^ Written Answers. – Sea Transport, (Link), Dáil Éireann – Volume 384 – 16 November 1988
  11. ^ Written Answers. – Irish Sea Railway Ferry, (Link), Dáil Éireann – Volume 434 – 19 October 1993
  12. ^ Written Answers. – Ireland-UK Tunnel, (Link), Dáil Éireann – Volume 517 – 29 March 2000
  13. ^ Written Answers – Transport Projects, (Link), Dáil Éireann – Volume 597 – 15 February 2005
  14. ^ http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1956/mar/23/irish-channel-tunnel#column_1642
  15. ^ Eurostat: Air passenger transport in Europe in 2007
  16. ^ Railway Gauge in Ireland Railway Preservation Society of Ireland
  17. ^ Railway Gauge in Great Britain Railway Regulation (Gauge) Act 1846
  18. ^ United Nations Inland Transport Committee Paragraphs 20 – 22
  19. ^ Gauge-changing trains ordered for Moscow – Berlin Railway Gazette
  20. ^ Three Shinkansen extensions approved Railway Gazette