In 1860, as the United States was in the early stages of their Civil War, Sultan Abdülmecid I, the 31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in present day Turkey hatched a plan to construct a tunnel that would link the east and the west. The Sultan would not live to see his vision come true, but as the rest of the world pressed on so did the plans for construction. In 1891, Sultan Abdülhamid II called for a submission of plans by French architects to examine the feasibility of creating such a project, but in the end realized that the technology to pull off such a massive engineering project wasn’t something that was going to be able to be completed any time soon. The project was tabled for over 100 years. In that time history saw the Ottoman Empire fall and give way to Turkey, and along with it the ancient city of Constantinople became Istanbul. Despite all these changes, the city that has sat as the home of many empires throughout time didn’t lose sight of the need for a connector between Europe and Asia and in 2004, the project was revived.
The new tunnel is over 13km long and cost €3bn to put into place (€1bn of which was paid for by Japan). The tunnel sections were dropped in from above instead of dug out, and sit 55m deep. Like most large infrastructure projects, this one was far behind schedule – about 4 years. The reasoning is different, as important archeological discoveries were made during tunnel construction which required special care to be removed in order for the tunnel to be completed.
The hope is that with the Marmary tunnel, Istanbul will be able to relieve traffic congestion by allowing 1.5 million people to commute without using one of the two bridges to the north. Istanbul is Europe’s biggest city at around 15 million people, 2 million of which cross the Bosphorus straight every day. While the tunnel is not expected to be a complete solution, the fact that the trains currently serving the tunnel can carry 75,000 people in either direction each hour is impressive by any standard. In the future, the plan is to allow freight as well as high-speed rail lines to cross as well. This will link six existing suburban lines with a line that takes commuters right into the southern side of Istanbul.
Five of the 37 stations have opened to kick-start the project which while has been unveiled is far from complete. Having lost their bid for the 2020 Olympic Games, Istanbul was looking for a way to put themselves back into the world’s spotlight. With this project, they might be on their way. The dream of being able to hop on a train in Tokyo and head to London is now a little bit closer to reality.