Sunday, 23 October 2011

How Victorian engineers almost built an underwater tunnel between Scotland and Ireland

How Victorian engineers almost built an underwater tunnel between Scotland and Ireland

This story has been reported by various news sites, including the B.B.C., but by far the best and most comprehensive description is from science [fiction] blog io9.

As anyone who has crossed the Irish Sea will tell you, a train journey (or, these days, an aeroplane flight) is infinitely more preferable to a ferry crossing and this was obviously very much the case even a hundred years ago.  It should come as no surprise therefore that the industrially-minded Victorians seriously considered a series of railway tunnels beneath the Irish Sea; the idea of a Channel Tunnel had been mooted almost a century earlier so the intent was clearly there.  Regrettably in both cases the huge engineering challenge would prove too great for Victorian science to overcome.  Nevertheless that such a plan was drawn up is a remarkable testament to the technological ambition and farsightedness of 19th Century engineers.

The suggestion of tunnels between mainland Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man still occasionally appears even today.  But it was the Victorians who first thought of the idea even though they, and subsequent supporters of the scheme, were always stymied by the matter of cost, politics and now a difference in the railway gauge.  It's not to say that the project is unfeasible, however, and I'm sure the vision will still be revisited in the future and - who knows? - maybe even undertaken.

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