As a result of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union in March 2019, businesses in Ireland, which remains in the European Union, will either have to cross a new border with the United Kingdom to cross via the undersea train tunnel (the North Sea Canal Tunnel or Eurotunnel), or return to the older way of traveling by cargo ships between Irish ports and the continent.
In the current situation, without borders, goods exported from within Ireland, reach Calais by truck in about 6 to 8 hours. By boat they take 1.5 days to make the 500 km journey across the sea.
Returning to a scenario where goods are waiting for hours at the border with England and Europe, which used to be the case before the Shenghen Treaty came into force, or where they need to be shipped, is undesirable.
It will result in an immediate decline in Irish exports.
Impact on Irish exports
Perishable goods like lobsters, fish and vegetables will faul or decline in value (freshness) before they can reach their customers. Storms at sea, which on the North Sea are frequent, can result in delays of several days before automotive components reach car factories in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. Just-in-time deliveries, which have become an industry standard best practice, will no longer be possible.
With this in mind, and Brexit seemingly inevitable, the question arises if technology could help to remediate this economic disaster.
If we permit ourselves to daydream, would it, for instance, be possible to build a direct tunnel between the shores of Ireland and France?
The shortest stretch of water separating France and Ireland lies somewhere between Cork (IE) and Brest (FR), and should result in a tunnel of about 450 km.
The depth of the channel over the entire stretch between Brest and Cork, is about 100 meters, similar to the depth of the Channel above the Eurotunnel. Of course, the challenges of tunneling 450 km are considerable and the feasibility depends greatly on geological conditions. At the same time, the existence of the Eurotunnel demonstrates that they are not necessarily insurmountable.
To alleviate the claustrophobic nature of driving 450 km underground, one could envision using a Hyperloop system with air partially evacuated from the tubes. Hyperloop trains would travel through this tube at speeds close to the speed of sound, 800 km per hour, resulting in trip times of about half an hour. Somewhat surprisingly, this is the same duration as a train ride in the Eurotunnel.
Needless to say that building such a tunnel would take many years and actually building it would require the economic benefits to outweigh the possibly pharaonic cost.
Since Hyperloop projects still need to mature in more mundane scenario’s, it is a project and concept that will probably be passed on to future decades.
Still, it is worth pondering about.