Future Tech: Transatlantic tunnel travel

Is long-distance tunnel travel just a pipe dream?

Future questions answered, definitively

We’ve all been waiting for certain tech to be invented and, largely thanks to Hollywood, our hopes have been built and built but constantly dashed. So fed up without any actual answers, we’ve took it upon ourselves to answer 10 of the classic tech questions once and for all.

We've already examined such visionary subjects as the prospect of flying cars, robots in the home the potential of holodeck simulations and the invisibility cloak. In the last in our series of future tech questions answered, we ask: Will we ever have a transatlantic tunnel?

What's the big idea?

Breakfast in Waterloo followed by lunch in Times Square, thanks to bullet train that crosses the length of the Atlantic Ocean in a gigantic undersea tunnel. The concept dates back to Jules Verne's day, but now engineers say there are no technological barriers left to prevent it from being built.

What's happening right now?

For now, the project remains a (3000-mile-long) pipe dream. Even so, some engineers have proposed a flexible 'floating' tunnel submerged 50m under the sea and anchored to the sea floor. This would avoid the ships and storms on the surface and the immense pressure found on the bottom. To build it, we'd need time and money says Bob Idell, chair of the British Tunneling Society. “With today’s technology and costs, a fair guesstimate would be that we could probably tunnel a distance of 100m per week on average, at an approximate cost of £50m per km.”

What's the hold up?

“The distances involved make everything very complicated - from machinery servicing to getting power and ventilation to the site - and currently we don’t have financially practical solutions for these problems.” Aside from placing a construction site thousands of miles from land, Idell thinks the greatest obstacle is demand. Aircraft don't do a bad job of crossing the Atlantic and proposed scramjet technology could cut the journey to 2-3 hours.

When could we see it?

Given unprecedented financial and political backing, a tunnel could be started this decade. But hypersonic passenger planes in the future are likely to sink the idea to the ocean floor.

Timeline: 2020

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