where is the project

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The idea is certainly juicy. And good proof is that she has been kicking for more than a century, with periods of impasse, during which she gives the feeling of being condemned to the drawer, and others in which she seems about to take off. The connection of Spain and Morocco, with a “suture” that saves the Strait of Gibraltar, has been on the table since the end of the 19th century without, to date, having translated into little more than a mountain of studies and many, many good words.

Today we could be though a little bit closer to get it. It is not the first time that its future seems clear, but of course it is undeniable that its viability, characteristics and advantages have once again sneaked into the center of public debate.

A project that comes from behind. And so far behind. Half a century ago, in 1869, the Board of Public Works already raised the possibility to connect both continents through Gibraltar, a dream that dates back to the Middle Ages. That proposal ended up in the drawers, but it planted a seed that was continued over the decades by other technicians, such as Laurent de Villedemil, Carlos Ibanez de Ibero (1908), Peter Jevenois (1927), Ferdinand Gallego (1929) or Alfonso Pena Boeuf (1956).

Their approaches on how to meet the challenge did not always coincide. There were supporters of building a bridge between the two banks, separated by 14 kilometers at their narrowest point, and those who saw it as more feasible to drill a tunnel or install a submerged conduit. Although today the idea on the table is a subway, the debate has been open well into the 20th century. In 1956 Boeuf drew up the plans for a huge suspension bridge between both shores.

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…With a clear turning point. In that long race, marked by mountains of papers and even higher mountain ranges of good words, there were a clear turning point in the late 1970s. With the recent example of the gigantic seikan tunnelin Japan, Spain decided to make a move and created a commission in 1972 to analyze “permanent communication between Spain and Africa”.

Years later, in 1979, Spain and Morocco went a little further and signed a joint declaration in which they undertook to study the project. So that the thing did not remain only in good words, two state societies were created: SECEGSA in Spain and SNED in Morocco. Since then they have acted as a key driver to keep the project alive.

Over the last decades, the strait has been analyzed, the technical challenges of the project, its social and economic impact, its cost, legal and institutional peculiarities… One of its most important advances was to conclude, in 1995, that the best of optionsthe most viable, was to dig a tunnel under the seabed, similar to the Eurotunnel of the English Channel.

A 15-kilometre tunnel to join the Strait of Gibraltar: the pioneering (and crazy) idea raised 100 years ago

An idea and many, many challenges. Just because you have a rough idea of ​​what you want to do doesn’t mean you know how to tackle it. Open a channel under the Strait of Gibraltar, which reaches a draft of 900 meters, It is not a simple task. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, surveys were carried out to define the characteristics of the project and of the bed of the strait itself.

The result It was the layout of a railway tunnel that would connect two terminals separated by 42 kilometers. The underground would extend 38.5 kilometers, the vast majority (28 kilometers) in a submerged section. When drawing up the route, the technicians opted for the shallowest route, the Threshold Route, between Punta Paloma and Punta Malabata, where the maximum draft is around 300 meters. At its maximum depth, the duct would reach 475 with a 3% slope.

The conduit would integrate two parallel single-track tubes with a central service and security gallery and other connecting cross sections arranged every 340 meters. “The tunnel would be conceived for both conventional and high-speed train traffic, as well as shuttles for the transport of light and heavy vehicles between the two terminals located on the respective banks. This exploitation model would be similar to that of the eurotunnel”, point from SECEGSA.

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New winds for the project. Perhaps it was not a priority and was maintained based on declarations, but to be fair the project has not been dead in recent years. In April 2021, for example, the Ministers of Transport of Spain and Morocco met to stage your endorsement to an infrastructure that, slipping then, could perhaps become a reality between 2030 and 2040. The reality is that shortly after that appointment, a deep diplomatic crisis broke out between Madrid and Rabat for the brahim ghali case and any hypothetical connection through the Strait of Gibraltar seemed to become a chimera for times of greater feeling.

Those times could have come. The new climate of understanding initiated in April between the governments of Spain and Morocco recovers a favorable scenario for the mega-tunnel. The press of both countries points out how the newly released climate could favor the old aspiration of linking both territories through Gibraltar. Not only that. The project would even have an ally as valuable as it is unexpected: the future Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline, which could be channeled through the conduit to reach Europe. so slide it Assabahthat aim for 2030 for the start of the works.

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An endeavor in which Spain and Morocco are not alone. If one thing is clear, it is that the strait is a strategic step with enormous potential. In addition to separating two continents, it is a strip with intense traffic. According to details the diary The reasonin 2019, the traffic registered by the lines that cross it from the Port of Algeciras exceeded 367,800 trucks, to which is added the intense flow of vehicles during those known as “step operations”.

That potential has not gone unnoticed by another key player, the United Kingdom, which has already has shown interest also on a connection between Gibraltar and Tangier. The infrastructure would be interesting for both countries: Rabat would see a new door open for high-end tourism and the British market —25% of tomatoes that consumes in the United Kingdom depart from the North African country— while London could strengthen its commercial relations and the strategic role of the rock.

The British company Xlinks also presented last year a project to generate 10.5 GW of wind and solar power in Morocco and connect it to the UK electricity grid.

Pictures | SECEGSA

The idea is certainly juicy. And good proof is that she has been kicking for more than a century, with…

The idea is certainly juicy. And good proof is that she has been kicking for more than a century, with…

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