Proposed British Isles fixed sea link connections

  (Redirected from Irish Sea tunnel)

There have been a number of proposed fixed connections—road or rail, bridge or tunnel—connecting the islands of Ireland and Great Britain, as well as other smaller islands in the British Isles.

Possible Irish Sea connections

Proposed fixed sea links between Great Britain and IrelandEdit


Pre-20th century proposalsEdit

The failure of the Union Bill 1799 (which succeeded, the next year, as the Act of Union 1800) prompted a satirical description of a proposal by "architect" William Pitt "to build a bridge from Holyhead to the Hill of Howth."[1]

Between 1886 and 1900, proposals for a link to Scotland were "seriously explored by engineers, industrialists, and Unionist politicians".[2] In 1885, Irish Builder and Engineer said a tunnel under the Irish Sea had been discussed "for some time back".[3] In 1890, engineer Luke Livingston Macassey outlined a Stranraer–Belfast link by tunnel, submerged "tubular bridge", or solid causeway.[4] In 1897 a British firm applied for £15,000 towards the cost of carrying out borings and soundings in the North Channel to see if a tunnel between Ireland and Scotland was viable.[5] The link would have been of immense commercial benefit, was significant strategically and would have meant faster transatlantic travel from the United Kingdom, via Galway and other ports in Ireland.[citation needed] When Hugh Arnold-Foster asked in the Commons in 1897 about a North Channel tunnel, Arthur Balfour said "the financial aspects ... are not of a very promising character".[6]

20th centuryEdit

In 1915, a tunnel was proposed by Gershom Stewart as a defence against a German U-boat blockade of Ireland but dismissed by H. H. Asquith as "hardly practicable in the present circumstances".[7] In 1918, Stewart proposed that German prisoners of war might dig the tunnel; Bonar Law said the Select Committee on Transport could consider the matter.[8]

The Senate of Northern Ireland debated a North Channel Tunnel on 25 May 1954.[9] In 1956 Harford Hyde, Unionist Westminster MP for North Belfast, raised a motion in the UK House of Commons for a tunnel across the North Channel.[10][11] In 1980, John Biggs-Davison suggested European Economic Community involvement in a North Channel tunnel; Philip Goodhart said no tunnel was planned.[12]

In 1988, John Wilson, the Irish Minister for Tourism and Transport, said his department estimated an Irish Sea tunnel would cost twice as much as the English Channel Tunnel and generate one fifth of the revenue, thus being economically unviable.[13] In 1997–98, the Department of Public Enterprise refused to fund a feasibility study requested by the engineering firm Symonds to build an immersed tube tunnel.[14][15]

21st centuryEdit

Symonds revived the plan in 2000, with an £8 million feasibility study and a £14 billion construction cost estimate.[14] In 2005, the Irish Minister for Transport said he had not studied A Vision of Transport in Ireland in 2050, published in September 2004 by the Irish Academy of Engineering, a report which included a Wexford–Pembroke tunnel.[16]

The proposal of building a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland is supported by members of a number of UK political parties.[17][18] DUP MP Sammy Wilson compared the idea to the approved Channel Tunnel and HS2 projects. The party made a feasibility study into a tunnel or enclosed bridge a precondition to coalition support in the event of a hung parliament in the 2015 election, and again reiterated the potential for a sea bridge in January 2018.[19][20] In January 2018, leading figures in the Democratic Unionist Party revived calls for a bridge or tunnel between Larne in County Antrim and Dumfries and Galloway;[20] the estimated £20 billion cost of the 25 miles (40 km) project would make it among the biggest infrastructure projects in UK history. The link was proposed by Wilson and Simon Hamilton, a former minister for the party in the Stormont administration.

The idea has been further endorsed as a potential solution to boost the economies of Scotland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.[21]

Late 2010s "Celtic Crossing"Edit

The idea for a Scotland to Northern Ireland Bridge, sometimes branded in the press as the Celtic Crossing or Irish Sea Bridge, was revived in 2018, by Professor Alan Dunlop at the University of Liverpool.[22] He proposed a combined road and rail crossing between Portpatrick, in Dumfries and Galloway, and Larne in Northern Ireland, stating that "the coastline between each country is more sheltered and the waterway better protected" than the English Channel, where, as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson had proposed a bridge. He suggested that this would create a 'Celtic powerhouse' due to the potential for an increase in trade between the two countries, and the increase in investment from the construction of the project which he put at between £15 billion and £20 billion (a fraction of the £120 billion cost of the proposed bridge over the English Channel).[23][21]

By 2020 the British government had begun to officially undertake scoping into the possibility of an Irish Sea Bridge.[24]


The project has been compared to the Øresund Bridge (pictured), between Sweden and Denmark[25]

North Channel (Galloway) routeEdit

This route has been proposed variously as either a tunnel or a bridge.[26] A 2010 report by the Centre for Cross Border Studies estimated building a bridge between Galloway and Ulster would cost just under £20.5 billion.[27] The proposal would see passengers board trains in Glasgow then cross on the bridge via Stranraer and alight in Belfast or Dublin. A longer bridge already exists between Shanghai and Ningbo in East China. Some political parties in Northern Ireland have included the bridge in their manifesto for some time.[28] However, because of the Beaufort's Dyke sea trench which is approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) deep,[29] this route would be deeper than the southern routes between Wales and Ireland. The sea trench was also used for dumping munitions after World War II, and so would require an expensive cleanup operation.[27] Ronnie Hunter, former chairman of the Institute of Civil Engineers Scotland, suggested that the project was a "stretch but doable". He cited the lack of "soft rock, the chalk and sandstone" as a challenge compared to the construction of the Channel Tunnel.[28] He also suggested that the change in rail gauge between Ireland and Great Britain might pose further concerns. Such a project was considered by railway engineer Luke Livingston Macassey in the 1890s as "a rail link using either a tunnel, a submerged "tubular bridge" or a solid causeway".[30] The north channel crossing was the subject of a 2020 study by the United Kingdom government.[31][32]

North Channel (Kintyre) routeEdit

This is the shortest sea route at around 19 miles (30 km), between Kintyre and County Antrim, but would include either the three hour drive around Loch Fyne and over the landslip-prone Rest and Be Thankful mountain pass, or two further new sea crossings via either the Isle of Arran or Cowal.[33][34]

Irish Mail routeEdit

This route (from Dublin to Holyhead in Anglesey, Wales) would be about 50 miles (81 km) long.[33] Avoiding the Saint George's Channel immediately to the south of the route would keep the sea depth less than 300 feet.

Tuskar routeEdit

The Institution of Engineers of Ireland's 2004 Vision of Transport in Ireland in 2050 imagines a tunnel to be built between the ports of Fishguard and Rosslare. This route would be approximately twice the distance of the English Channel Tunnel at 62 miles (100 km).[35] A new container port on the Shannon Estuary linking a freight line to Europe is included. This report also includes ideas for a BelfastDublinCork high-speed train, and for a new freight line from Rosslare to Shannon.

Proposed and existing fixed sea links between Great Britain and FranceEdit

Channel TunnelEdit

  • The Channel Tunnel operates between Great Britain and France. It is a 31.35 miles (50.45 km) rail tunnel linking Folkestone, Kent, in the United Kingdom, with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais, near Calais in northern France, beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover. At its lowest point, it is 75 m (250 ft) deep. At 23.5 miles (37.9 km), the tunnel has the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world, although the Seikan Tunnel in Japan is both longer overall at 33.46 miles (53.85 km) and deeper at 240 metres (790 ft) below sea level. The speed limit for trains in the tunnel is 100 mph (160 km/h).[36]

Second Channel tunnel or bridgeEdit

  • A second English Channel tunnel with a road was proposed in 2000 by Eurotunnel, as required by its contract for the original tunnel.[37] The project would have involved the construction of the longest road tunnel in the world, containing two 29 miles (46 km) long carriageways, one on top of the other, which would have allowed motorists to complete the journey in about 30 minutes.
  • An English Channel road bridge was proposed in 2018 by Boris Johnson, who was then foreign secretary. It received limited support.[38]

Channel Islands TunnelEdit

  • The Channel Islands Tunnel was a proposed tunnel between Jersey and Lower Normandy. In July 2009, it was revealed by then States Assistant Minister for Planning and Environment, Deputy Rob Duhamel, that the States of Jersey were considering the feasibility of building a 14-mile (23 km) long tunnel to connect the island with Lower Normandy in France; the tunnel would be a concrete tube sunk in the seabed and then covered over. Talks would be held[by whom?] in September 2009 to ascertain whether it would be of local benefit. The proposition included a road and rail link. The plans were not developed, and the then Assistant Minister for Planning and Environment Deputy Rob Duhamel who had suggested the idea lost his seat in the 2014 elections.[39][40][41]

Other proposed fixed sea links within or to the British Isles and associated areasEdit

Isle of ManEdit

  • In 2018 Professor Alan Dunlop, of the University of Liverpool, suggested a circa 18 mile bridge be built from Scotland to the Isle of Man. This was in addition to his suggestion for a bridge connecting Northern Ireland to Scotland. He suggested that it would help open up the Isle of Man economy.[42]
  • In 2008 the Liverpool Echo ran an article suggesting the construction of a 75-mile (121 km) bridge to the Isle of Man from Liverpool. Despite the proposal being nothing more than an April Fools joke, the bridge was included in an engineering text book called the "Handbook of International Bridge Engineering" in its 2017 edition.[43]
  • In 2020 the Leeds affiliated branch of European Movement UK suggested an 'Isle of Roundabout' bridge terminal involving four bridges connecting the Isle of Man with England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.[44] Although it was widely received as an overly ambitious idea, each bridge would hypothetically be constructed in shallower water than a bridge crossing the Irish Sea.[45]

Shetland and OrkneyEdit

  • A possible Orkney tunnel between Scotland and Orkney (about 9 to 10 miles (14 to 16 km)) was publicly discussed especially around 2005,[46] but also at other times.
  • In 2014 a consultation was undertaken by Orkney Islands Council, with a view to considering a series of fixed links involving seven of the Orkney islands. This would include a bridge between the isles of Eday, Westray and Papa Westray, to alleviate the need for air travel—currently the shortest scheduled flight in the world,[47] and also from Orkney to Shapinsay, Egilsay, Rousay and Wyre, but not a tunnel to Scotland this time.
  • In 2019 a Shetland Island councilor warned that the island of Whalsay would suffer a “slow and painful death” if talks were not held on building a tunnel or fixed link to replace the ferry service.[48]
  • Bridges connecting Orkney to Shetland via the Fair Isle have been mooted at numerous times throughout history with varying degrees of seriousness.


  • In 2018 the Western Isles Council began plans to build a series of bridges and tunnels between the Outer Hebrides. The plans proposed bridges between the Sound of Harris and the Sound of Barra as a starting point. Ian Fordham, chairman of Outer Hebrides Tourism, suggested that the scheme would alleviate the pressure on the ferries that operate across the Outer Hebrides. Plans for a 15-mile (24 km) tunnel between North Uist and Skye, thereby connecting the Outer Hebrides to the Mainland, had also been mooted.[49] In June 2019 a delegation headed up by the Western Isles MP went to the Faroe Islands to assess its tunnel and bridge-link system to see how the infrastructure could be translated to the Hebrides.[50] In 2019 Angus MacNeil MP, chair of the Commons International Trade Committee, voiced his support for the project, and also for a proposed bridge between the Sound of Kerrera off Oban and between Mull and the mainland to ensure the Inner Hebrides were also connected.[48]

Isle of WightEdit

  • A bridge from mainland England to the Isle of Wight has been proposed a number of times, often due to the high cost of ferries to and from the island. The Isle of Wight Party—a political party active only in the Isle of Wight—was set up with the intention of campaigning for a fixed crossing. Critics have suggested that such a link may damage the ecology of the Isle of Wight, particularly the red squirrel population.[51] Campaign group Pro-Link has put forward a number of plans to the Isle of Wight Infrastructure Task Force of the Isle of Wight council, including a £1.2 billion 4-mile (6.4 km) long dual-carriageway tunnel in the Solent between Whippingham on the island and Gosport, Hants. The campaign group has proposed the project be initially run on a toll basis, but that it would have paid for itself after eighteen years. In 2017 Abel Connections Ltd released their plans for the project, "to create a new north-south axis through the centre of the Solent region by constructing a tunnel from the M27 east of junction 9 to the Whippingham roundabout on the Isle of Wight, with an additional access intersection ‘cut and cover’ portal near the mainland coast between Browndown and Meon."[52]

Isles of ScillyEdit

  • Although bridges connecting some of the individual islands of the Isles of Scilly have been suggested at various points through history, the Cornwall Live newspaper ran a 2018 April Fools Day joke page suggesting that there was a secret plan to connect the Isles of Scilly to the mainland.[53]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Plans for a Bridge from Holy-Head to the Hill of Howth". The Anti-Union (20): 80. 9 February 1799. JSTOR 30059887.
  2. ^ Hughes, Kyle (1 December 2013). The Scots in Victorian and Edwardian Belfast: A Study in Elite Migration. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 128, fn.39. ISBN 9780748679935. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  3. ^ "Tunnel Under the Irish Sea". Irish Builder and Engineer. Howard MacGarvey & Sons. 27: 197. 15 July 1885.
  4. ^ "Scotland-Ireland undersea rail link plan 'a surprise'". BBC News. 9 October 2011.
  5. ^ "Tunnel Under the Sea", The Washington Post, 2 May 1897 (Archive link)
  6. ^ "TUNNEL (IRELAND AND SCOTLAND)". Hansard. 22 March 1897. pp. HC Deb vol 47 cc1125–6. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  7. ^ "IRISH CHANNEL TUNNEL". Hansard. 23 February 1915. pp. HC Deb vol 70 c168. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  8. ^ "TUNNEL TO IRELAND". HC Deb vol 110 c594. 22 October 1918. p. Hansard. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  9. ^ "North Channel Tunnel". Parliamentary Debates: The Senate. Vol.38. Parliament of Northern Ireland. 1955. pp. 513–531.
  10. ^ "An Irishman's Diary" by Wesley Boyd, (Link), The Irish Times, Feb 2004 (subscription required)
  11. ^ "IRISH CHANNEL TUNNEL". Hansard. 23 March 1956. HC Deb vol 550 cc1641–88. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  12. ^ "Irish Sea (Tunnel)". Hansard. 4 February 1980. pp. HC Deb vol 978 c85W. Retrieved 25 September 2015. (Link has incorrect question; correct question is on preceding page with incorrect answer)
  13. ^ "Written Answers. - Sea Transport". Dáil Éireann debates. 16 November 1988. pp. Vol.384 No.3 p.34. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  14. ^ a b "Plan to build rail tunnel under sea". 7 April 2000. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  15. ^ "Written Answers — Ireland-UK Tunnel". Dáil debates. 29 March 2000. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  16. ^ "Written Answers - Transport Projects". Dáil Éireann debates. 15 February 2005. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  17. ^ "Could a bridge or tunnel one day link Scotland with Ireland?". The Scotsman. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Building bridges - literally: Unionists plan for link between Scotland and Ulster". Evening Times. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  19. ^ "Election 2015: DUP votes 'may be vital' in forming government". BBC News. 21 April 2015. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  20. ^ a b "Scotland to Northern Ireland bridge could be built between Larne and Dumfries and Galloway". Metro. 24 January 2018. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  21. ^ a b Nutt, Kathleen. "Bridge from Scotland to Ireland could create 'Celtic powerhouse'". The National. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  22. ^ Alison Campsie (5 September 2018). "New images of bridge to link Scotland with Northern Ireland released". The Scotsman. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
  23. ^ "Top architect insists Scotland - Northern Ireland bridge 'is feasible'". BBC News. 22 January 2018. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  24. ^
  25. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. ^ "Bridge to Northern Ireland mooted". BBC News. 22 August 2007.
  27. ^ a b "Could a bridge or tunnel one day link Scotland with Ireland?". The Scotsman. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  28. ^ a b "Building bridges - literally: Unionists plan for link between Scotland and Ulster". Evening Times. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  29. ^ Nautical Charts. Retrieved 10 February 2020. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  30. ^ McKenzie, Steven (9 October 2011). "Scotland-Ireland undersea rail link plan 'a surprise'". BBC News – Highlands & Islands. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  31. ^ "Study backs bridge-tunnel structure between Northern Ireland and Scotland". belfasttelegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  32. ^ "Scotland - Northern Ireland bridge: Boris Johnson to revive £20bn plan". Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  33. ^ a b Castella, Tom de (14 August 2013). "A bridge across the Irish Sea and four other amazing plans" – via
  34. ^ "Could a bridge or tunnel one day link Scotland with Ireland?".
  35. ^ A Vision of Transport in Ireland in 2050, IEI report (pdf), The Irish Academy of Engineers, 21 December 2004.
  36. ^ "The Channel Tunnel infrastructure". Accessed 24 June 2018.
  37. ^ Millar, Stuart (6 January 2000). "Tunnel chiefs unveil road link to France". The Guardian.
  38. ^ Mason, Rowena; Grierson, Jamie (19 January 2018). "No 10 unenthusiastic about Boris Johnson's Channel bridge plan". The Guardian.
  39. ^ "Jersey-France tunnel plan talks". 14 July 2009. Retrieved 24 June 2018 – via
  40. ^ "Bridge to France: Study next year?". Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  41. ^ "Un projet de tunnel pour relier Jersey à la Manche". Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  42. ^
  43. ^ Hughes, Lorna (14 April 2017). "Fictional Liverpool-Isle of Man bridge included in engineering textbook". Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  44. ^ "Leeds for Europe - Get Involved". Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  45. ^ "Leeds for Europe". Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  46. ^ £100m tunnel to Orkney 'feasible' (10 March 2005)
  47. ^ "Orkney bridge plan may end world's shortest flight". Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  48. ^ a b
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^ Castella, Tom de (13 August 2013). "Could these five projects improve life in the UK?". Retrieved 24 June 2018 – via
  52. ^ White, Jamie (19 May 2017). "Latest Isle Of Wight 'Fixed-Link' Plan Is Revealed - Isle Of Wight Radio". Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  53. ^