Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Light at the end of Strait Tunnel

A plan to build a tunnel between Spain and Morocco, establishing the first fixed link between Europe and Africa, has come a step closer after talks between the two countries, it was reported yesterday in The Guardian Online.

The Spanish development minister, Magdalena Álvarez, met her Moroccan counterpart, Karim Chellab, in Tangier last week as part of a visit by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain to push forward plans for a 24-mile rail tunnel running beneath the Strait of Gibraltar.

The idea was first mooted in the 1970s and an initial agreement was signed in 1980. But a combination of political, financial and technical obstacles has prevented it becoming a reality.

Now, however, a renewed spirit of cooperation between the two countries has raised hopes that they could realise a concrete symbol of their interdependence.

A route for the tunnel was agreed last December, and Ms Alvarez told Mr Chellab last week that plans for the tunnel had been included in the Spanish cabinet’s new transport infrastructure plan.

The tunnel will run from the Punta Paloma on Spain’s southern coast to a terminal just east of Tangier to take advantage of the shallower waters to the west of the strait. A shorter route was discounted because the seabed in the narrowest part of the channel is more than 900 metres (3,000ft) below the surface. At its deepest point the tunnel will run 400 metres below sea level and 300 metres beneath the seabed.

The strait’s tunnel will follow a similar model to the 31-mile Channel tunnel. Two rail tunnels will run 50 metres apart, with a smaller service tunnel running between them. The main tunnels will be three storeys high and will have connections with the service tunnel every few hundred metres.

While both sides have committed more than 10m euros (£7m) each to preliminary drilling work, there is still no timetable for completing the project, or estimate of the final cost. But they agree that the EU should pay for the main works.

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