Boris Johnson wants to build a bridge over the sea of ​​Ireland, connecting Scotland to Northern Ireland. He asked the Department of Transport to quantify it, which would be about 15 billion pounds.

The idea was received as a joke: a goofy politician suggesting a goofy politics – haha. But a "fixed link" over the Irish Sea should not necessarily be discarded from the outset.

First, let me declare an interest. In January 2018, I posted a semi-serious tweet suggesting a bridge or tunnel to connect Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin by high speed train. It became viral, the Scottish newspaper took over as a campaign the next day and snowballed until Boris Johnson adopted it as a policy.

I am of course far from being the first to suggest a crossover – something similar is found in the DUP manifesto for quite some time, and the idea itself dates from more than one year ago. century. I can, however, be partly responsible for the current wave of enthusiasm.

There are things to be legitimately criticized about this idea: first, the route proposed by Johnson from Stranraer to Larne, I was told about 100 times when I suggested it, concerns a former World War II ammunition dump, Beaufort & # 39; s Dyke. In addition to being full of bombs, it is also very deep, which would pose its own construction problems for a bridge or tunnel in itself. People also raised other concerns, including whether the construction of a bridge would interfere with movements of the fishing fleet.

But the fact that the idea of ​​a fixed link crossing the Irish Sea is treated as a joke in the UK is not a good thing: Britain under-invests in its infrastructure for decades, and in other countries, a similar crossing would be considered a serious problem. proposal and probably built long ago.

The Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido are connected by the Seikan Tunnel, a rail tunnel that carries high-speed trains over the length of the Channel Tunnel (and even longer than that of Scotland to Northern Ireland). Despite its low population density, Norway takes care of its fjords by investing in a dozen tunnels of more than five kilometers, intended to offer more direct routes to places that would otherwise require a detour or a boat trip . Denmark and Germany are building the fixed link of the Fehmarn belt, crossing a 17 km section of the Baltic Sea, in order to significantly reduce journey times between the two countries. Finland and Estonia are seriously considering linking their capitals with a 50 km submarine tunnel, with the aim of bringing the two cities closer together.

Building bridges and tunnels to bring places together is not a crazy idea – it's a normal thing to do. Britain of course has the Channel Tunnel to France, which has become a hit – with Eurostar, shuttle services for cars and freight trains running through it. That would probably not exist without the French enthusiasm for infrastructure investments, but nobody would want to close it now. Why not a link on the sea of ​​Ireland?

There is definitely a demand for traveling between Britain and the island of Ireland. According to some measures, London to Dublin is the busiest air route in Europe: Ryanair and its competitors serve it, generating large amounts of CO2 commuting on useless short-haul flights that could be done in the same way as in Europe. a Eurostar. rail service. If the fight against climate change is a priority, a fixed link to replace this congested air corridor – and those of other cities in the UK – would be a good starting point. About 40% of Ireland's physical trade also goes through Great Britain and freight trains and trucks loaded with shuttles could use the tunnel.

Holyhead in Dublin would probably be a better place for a link than the North Channel: although further, the seabed is shallower, and this is already the way that the vast majority of surface traffic across the Irish Sea choose to take. With a rail link like the one built for the Channel Tunnel, the train ride from Manchester and Liverpool to Dublin could take about two hours and from London to Dublin below three. Services from Scotland and other parts of the country would also be viable: the common traffic area means that no passport check is necessary and that passengers can hop on and off at intermediate stops. Services could possibly continue in Belfast; a new cross-border high-speed rail line could reduce journey times between the two cities to about half an hour (two hours' drive).

The total duration of the trip would be faster than that of the plane, it would be more ecological and the trip would be simply more comfortable. Making the trip easier and placing Dublin and Belfast in the same arc as the cities of northern England would have economic benefits. In addition, the island of Ireland would benefit for the first time from a direct rail link with all of Europe and Asia.

Will this happen? Probably never. Infrastructure investment priorities are certainly more urgent, including improving interurban rail links in the north of England and developing metros and trams in British city centers. But building infrastructure is not an idea to take into account; it deserves at least further study to see if it could be viable. The sad thing is that many other countries would probably have done a long time ago and would do better.