The UK is most definitely in the post-truth era. In that we have a government whose goal is to do nothing useful, but control the narrative and, with the aid of their allies in the media, delude and distract the public… while they get on with the merry business of robbing from the poor to give to the hard up billionaires. And we see no greater example of this than the proposed tunnel between NI and Scotland. Or “the Boris Burrow” as the media are already calling it.
Firstly, it has to be acknowledged that Boris Johnson has a habit of vanity projects that don’t go anywhere, yet cost hundreds of millions of pounds. Examples being his garden bridge (which cost over £50 million, in consultancy fees for a bridge that wasn’t built) or Boris Island (his proposed £50 billion airport in the Thames estuary, that would be built next to a wrecked WW2 munitions ship and on the wrong side of London). So he has form here. But just to show how stupid an idea this is and how utterly divorced from reality it is, let look a bit deeper.
The problem is that right in the middle of the Irish sea, between NI and Scotland (assuming a connection via Galloway to Larne) is the Beaufort Dyke, a rift in the sea floor about 300m deep. That means your tunnel has to go below that, which would make it one of the deepest tunnels in the world, or go around it. Going around is probably a better idea, since its filled with WW2 munitions that occasionally explode.
Incidentally crossing from the Mull of Kintyre, would mean a much longer journey for traffic (it takes about 3-4hrs to drive from Glasgow to Campbeltown, about the time it takes the ferries to currently cross). And this would be directed down a peninsula with very poor road infrastructure, and no railway lines, with the situation not much better on the other side around Fair head. Furthermore, you’d have to drive any new road or railway line through mountainous terrain, with several obvious bottlenecks that are prone to land slips (the rest and be thankful being a good example).
So while the Galloway crossing is only about 55 km’s across, accounting for the detour around the Beaufort Dyke and approach tunnelling under land, you are probably looking at a distance of about 75 km’s, about 1.5 times longer than the channel tunnel. That cost about £16 billion in today’s money, so this project would cost a lot more, particularly when you consider that the rock under the channel was soft chalk, clay and Limestone, while the route of this tunnel will have to go through is much harder volcanic rock. This would cost a lot more to drill through (or more precisely to blast through) and take a lot longer. A shorter tunnel in Japan took 17 years to build and cost about $15 billion in today’s money. So a figure of at least double the channel tunnel’s cost (say £30 billion) is probably a more realistic cost. I don’t know, maybe Boris thinks he can find some cowboy builder to do if for him over a long weekend.
And given that it would be the 2040’s or 2050’s before the tunnel would be ready, there’s every chance Scotland will have left the UK by then and NI will be part of the south. So given the lack of enthusiasm and cross party support from Holyrood and Stormont, it would be a wasted exercise.
But okay, suppose it gets built anyway and in 2045 the first train arrives into Larne….and immediately derails. Why? Because Ireland used a form of Broad gauge for its railways, while the UK uses Standard gauge. For those not familiar with the history, there was a bit of a format war back in the 1840’s between those advocating standard gauge and broad gauge (and various other sizes in between). While in the UK the standard gauge advocates won (largely by default as their network was larger and thus it was easier to set everything to standard gauge) but the opposite happened in Ireland.
Given that Ireland has a shared rail network, with most of the NI train lines essentially being a branch line leading up from Dublin’s Connolly station, you’d have to either have a break of gauge at the tunnel exit (meaning you need to stop the train, get everyone off, off-load all cargo and then load them onto new trains), which would delay onwards travel and largely negate the benefits of a tunnel. Or you’d have to convert the entire rail network in Ireland, all 2700 km’s of track, to standard gauge.
To say this would be a huge job is to put it mildly. The Tories seem to think they can send some navies out to move one line of rails over and pay them with potatoes (after all they live in some sort of Victorian era fantasy). Think again, there is no such thing as a quick or cheap job when dealing with such an old railway network. You’d need to remove the rails and replace the sleepers, which means getting heavy equipment and cranes into the middle of a farmers field. You’d probably have to re-pack the track bed to account for the change in load distribution. And while you are at it, upgrade (or reinstall) signalling, points, etc.
And you have to do all this on an active railway line that you can’t just shutdown for a few years. So you’ll have one train on standard gauge going one way, another on broad gauge going the other and a large network of replacement buses in between. You’d be talking of the mother or all train disruptions going on for several years. And of course the trains themselves would need to be refurbished, with the bogies set to standard gauge. But of course with some of the rolling stock it won’t be cost effective to refurbish (I know a lot of Ireland’s rolling stock is sourced from other countries with non-standard gauge networks, such as Spain or Japan) so they will have to be scraped and replaced.
Even if we were to assume an absurdly low figure of £5-10 million per km (which might seem high but its low compared to the £300 million per mile being charged for HS2), plus a couple of billion more for new trains and to cover the economic costs of disruption, that’s £15-30 billion, almost as big a job as the tunnel itself. And it would only be fair (as its a UK idea) that some significant portion of those costs would be met by the UK rather than Ireland.
And while we are at it, the transport infrastructure on the Scottish side in Galloway isn’t the best (better than Kintyre, but still not great). To get the maximum benefit from the tunnel you’d want to put in a high speed rail line and a dual carriage way connection to the central belt. Plus a dual carriage way across from the M74/M6 near Carlisle would also be a good idea, as that would avoid the need for travellers from England to follow a bunch of B roads (or take a 100 km detour up to Glasgow and back down again). Again, you’d be spend figures in the order of £10’s of billions on all of this.
So add it all up, tunnel and support infrastructure you are looking at total costs in the order of £50 to £100 billion and several decades worth of construction work. That’s £7700 to £15000 for every man, woman and child on the island of Ireland or £28000 to £55000 per person in NI. Do you honestly think the Tories are going to spend that sort of money on a part of the country where they have no seats and very few supporters (and what few they have were fishermen, who aren’t likely to vote Tory again any time soon). Nevermind the fact that as the UK lacks the expertise to build a tunnel like this you’d have to bring in outside contractors (or to put that in Daily Mail terms, give tens of billions of taxpayers money to foreign multinationals and allow tens of thousands of migrant tunnel workers into the country).
And why are we doing this? Because the Tories awful brexit deal has screwed over the country, most notably NI. There will still be border checks and controls at the end of the tunnel. It changes nothing. Hell at those sorts of prices it would literally be cheaper to just cut the Unionists a £100k cheque each and pay them to move to England and still have change left to afford a gold plated statue of Boris that rotates so that it always faces the sun.
But of course you aren’t going to get such analysis from any pro-Tory newspaper. War is peace and all that. They will put a positive spin on it, much as they’ve been doing with brexit. Some Tory donors will be given generous contracts to consult on and plan for this enterprise, which will simply become yet another Tory money burning party funnelling public money into the offshore accounts of the rich and non-tax payers. And we have the nerve to call other countries corrupt.
So this bridge is just another brexit fantasy project. Another step in the Tories attempt to Americanise UK politics with false controversies. Its a dark illusion intended to distract the public from covid, brexit and their dismantling of the NHS.