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A Bridge Over Troubled Waters or a Tunnel?

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

After approval by Mr Johnston, Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, has asked experts to conduct a review of a potential tunnel between Stranraer and Larne.

Doug Oakervee, the author of a Government-commissioned report that gave HS2 the green light earlier this year, will lead the analysis.

Last year Mr Johnson asked civil servants to consider a 21-mile bridge between NI and Scotland at a cost of £20bn, however a tunnel is now being considered among fears that high winds could close a bridge for 100 days a year.

Feasibility Study

In September 2020, it was said that a national review of transport across the United Kingdom is set to also include a feasibility study into whether a tunnel or bridge crossing the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland is possible. The independent government review is looking into whether investment into land, sea and air infrastructure can help the UK’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the government’s terms of reference.

The study, led by Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, will also look at improving other transport links, including flights within the UK, major road renovations and reviewing the Welsh railway network.

Would A Celtic Crossing Work?

This is far from the first time a bridge across the Irish Sea has been considered, with several potential routes being suggested as far back as 1800, albeit somewhat satirically, given the then-fraught relations between Great Britain and Ireland. For the next two centuries, the idea would be explored, both in terms of a bridge and a tunnel, with a few potential routes scoped out, which have gradually been reduced to five plausible possible plans.

The first route, the so-called “Tuskar” route between Rosslare in South-East Ireland and Fishguard in Wales, is generally ruled out because the proposed route would be twice the length of the Channel Tunnel. This would lead to issues regarding bridge repairs and overall structural stability.

A similar route, between the rather well-used ferry route from Holyhead to Dublin, would be plausible, particularly in tunnel form if the St George’s Channel managed to be avoided, although it would rely on strong negotiations between Downing Street and Stormont.

There have been somewhat satirical plans regarding a potential bridge or tunnel between the Isle of Man and Liverpool, which managed to end up in a legitimate engineering textbook. However, the two more plausible routes connect Scotland and Northern Ireland and have been more actively researched and are more plausible, however, there are still a few issues involved with their construction.

The Kintyre route, between the Scottish peninsula and County Antrim, is the cheaper of the two, however, the current transport links between Kintyre and the rest of Scotland are less than ideal.

There is a choice between adding two extra sea crossings from the Scottish mainland to either Arran or Cowal then across to Kintyre, or a three-hour drive around Loch Fyne and over the A83, the so-called “Rest and Be Thankful” mountain pass, notorious for landslips and traffic chaos.

The final and most plausible route is the Galloway route between Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway, and Larne in County Antrim.

It has been compared to the similar in scope Øresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark, or the Hangzhou bridge between Shanghai and Ningbo in China.

The problem with this proposal, besides the £20bn price tag, is that the route would pass over the Beaufort’s Dyke trench, which was the UK’s largest offshore site for dumping explosives and chemical weapons after the Second World War. Any link over it would need to either clear or float over the 1m tonnes of weapons and nuclear waste dumped there!

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