Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Transatlantic Tunnel

If you could take the train journey from New York to London in less than an hour, would you do it? What if you had to make the journey through a tunnel 150 feet under the Atlantic Ocean? And on a magnetically levitated train traveling at 5,000 mph?

Today on Far Future Horizons we are going to look at a mega-scale extreme engineering project that may see fruition in the early Twenty-second century.

The transatlantic tunnel is a theoretical tunnel which would span the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe and would carry mass transit of some type—trains are envisioned in most proposals. Using advanced technologies, speeds of 500 to 8,000 kilometres per hour (310 to 5,000 mph) are envisaged.

Plans for such a tunnel have not progressed beyond the conceptual stage, and no one is actively pursuing such a project. Most conceptions of the tunnel have it between the United States and the United Kingdom, or more specifically, New York City and London. The main barriers to constructing such a tunnel are cost— between $175 billion to $12 trillion and the limits of current materials science.

Thus far the transatlantic tunnel has only come to fruition in the works of speculative fiction.
The first suggestion for a transatlantic tunnel can be traced back to Michel Verne, the son of Jules Verne, who wrote about it in 1888 in a story Un Express de l'avenir (An Express of the Future). This story was published in English in Strand Magazine in 1895, where it was incorrectly attributed to Jules Verne, a mistake frequently repeated today.

In 1913, the novel Der Tunnel was published by German author Bernhard Kellermann, which inspired four films of the same name: one in 1914 by William Wauer, and separate German, French, and English versions released in 1933 and 1935. The German and French versions were by Curtis Bernhardt and the English was written in part by science fiction writer Curt Siodmak. Suggesting contemporary interest, an original poster for the English version was estimated at auction for $2,000–3,000.

Robert H. Goddard, the father of rocketry, was issued two of his 214 patents for the idea. The late Arthur C. Clarke, mentions intercontinental tunnels in his 1956 novel, The City and the Stars.

The best depiction of this massive engineering undertaking remains by far the 1975 novel, A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!, by Harry Harrison which describes a vacuum/maglev system on the ocean floor. The April 2004 issue of Popular Science suggests a transatlantic tunnel is more feasible than previously thought and without major engineering challenges. It compares it favourably with laying transatlantic pipes and cables, but with costs ranging from 88 to 175 billion dollars.

Will such a tunnel ever actually be built? If suborbital transoceanic sub-orbital space-planes, such as Skylon or the Orient Express (the Rockwell X-30) become a reality, it is doubtful if the Transatlantic Tunnel and the staggering costs associated with its construction can ever become economically viable or justifiable.

Extreme Engineering - The Transatlantic Tunnel 

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