ISTANBUL – Turkey has opened an underwater railway tunnel linking Europe and Asia, and the two sides of Istanbul, realizing a plan initially proposed by an Ottoman sultan about 150 years ago.
The Marmaray tunnel runs under the Bosporus, the strait that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and divides Istanbul between Asia and Europe. The tunnel is 8.5 miles long, including an underwater stretch of 4,593 feet.
It is among a number of large infrastructure projects under the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that have helped boost the economy but also have provoked a backlash of public protest.
Officials hope that with up to 1.5 million passengers a day, the tunnel will ease some of Istanbul’s chronic traffic, particularly over the two bridges linking the two sides of the city. A more distant dream is that the tunnel may become part of a new train route for rail travel between Western Europe and China.
The underwater portion of the tunnel wasn’t dug but was dropped in sections to the sea bottom, in what is called the immersed-tube method.
Started in 2005 and scheduled to be completed in four years, the project was delayed by important archaeological finds, including a 4th century Byzantine port, as builders began digging under the city.
Rejecting any fears that the tunnel could be vulnerable to earthquakes in a region of high seismic activity, Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said that it is designed to withstand a massive 9.0 magnitude quake. He calls it “the safest place in Istanbul.”