Tunnel plan to link Scotland and Northern Ireland
A tunnel under the Irish Sea is gaining favour
An ambitious plan to build a tunnel linking Scotland with Northern Ireland is expected to become a new point of conflict between Westminster and Holyrood.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been keen on a link across the Irish Sea and last year the UK Government commissioned the chairman of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, with coming up with ideas to better connect the four home nations.
A bridge had been proposed by Mr Johnson, but a 31-mile tunnel between Stranraer and Larne is believed to be the favoured option to avoid the impact of bad weather.
The Scottish Government has opposed the idea as a waste of money, but may also be critical because of Mr Johnson’s desire to use big infrastructure projects, such as HS2, to unite the UK.
Holyrood transport secretary Michael Matheson has previously dismissed the idea of a link as a “vanity project”.
But it is suggested that Mr Hendy will announce his recommendations as soon as next month.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack – whose Westminster constituency includes Portpatrick -– is a supporter of building a tunnel to Northern Ireland.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he said: “You say bridge. I say tunnel. I think a bridge would be closed for probably 100 days a year with the weather in the Irish Sea.”
Speaking about Sir Peter Hendy’s report, Mr Jack added: “My strong inclination would be that he thinks it should be a tunnel.”
It is understood that the idea of a tunnel has backing from the rail industry.
High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) has proposed tunnelling in its submission to the Hendy review.
The route would be diverted to avoid Beaufort’s Dyke, a 1,000ft deep trench in the Irish Sea.
A new rail connection between Carlisle and Stranraer would be needed and the width of railway track in Ireland may need to be altered, the proposal said.
Jim Steer, an HSRG board member, said: “There is an urgent need for both new and improved transport links between the four nations of the United Kingdom, which have been systematically neglected for too long.
“Cross-border travel markets for rail were growing strongly over the period to 2019.
“Travel generates economic value, but the opportunity for further economic stimulus from this source will be lost if transport network capacity constraints are not addressed.
“Building on the transformative impact of HS2, HSRG are calling for these cross-border rail links to be addressed as a matter of urgency, safeguarding the strength of the whole of the UK economy in the years ahead.”