Turkey inaugurated the Marmaray undersea railway tunnel on Tuesday, linking Europe and Asia. It is the Marmaray, the world’s deepest immersed tube tunnel at 60.46 metres (198.4 ft).
An Ottoman sultan’s dream finally realized, the project has sparked criticism in part because it was built just 11 miles from one of the most seismically active earthquake zones on earth – the North Anatolian fault.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first conceived the Marmaray project, which includes an 8.5 mile Bosporus crossing, 39 miles of suburban train lines and a 47.4 mile high-capacity line between Gebze and Halkalı, during his tenure as Mayor of Istanbul.
It is just one of several major infrastructure projects he has initiated to bring the city up to speed with the rest of the western world, but critics claim that these “Pharaonic” ambitions destroy valuable green space and ruin the city’s former character.
Supporters and city officials say the $4 billion Marmaray project will reduce congestion and improve public transportation for at least some of Istanbul’s 16 million residents.
Construction of the tubular tunnel beneath the Bosporus Strait broke ground in 2004 and should have been completed in 2009, but a series of archaeological discoveries delayed the first phase’s inauguration by just over four years.
Erdoğan was impatient with these discoveries. “First (they said) there was archaeological stuff, then it was clay pots, then this, then that. Is any of this stuff more important than people?” Phys.org quoted him as saying in an earlier statement.
While the railway tunnel can transport as many as 75,000 passengers every hour in either direction, easing terrible traffic on existing bridges, its proximity to the North Anatolian fault is worrisome.
In 2007, Wired Magazine wrote about Eurasia’s equivalent of the San Andreas Fault.
“Since AD 342, it [the North Anatolian Fault] has seen more than a dozen huge quakes that each claimed more than 10,000 lives,” they reported. “Two in 1999 together killed 18,000 people. Worse, over the last century the tremors have marched steadily west, toward Istanbul and the strait.”
While Wired detailed a variety of measures that have been taken to ensure that the tunnel can withstand a massive earthquake, local city planners and architects are far from confident that they are sufficient or that the project was ready to be inaugurated.
“It would be murder to open it under these conditions,” Suleyman Solmaz, a senior figure at the Chamber of Architects and Engineers, told the New York Times. He also that “a project engineer told him he would not dare ride through the tunnel until those issues were addressed.”
Despite these concerns, the transport minister, Binali Yildirim, insists that the tunnel is designed to withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake, and that – in such an event – it will be the “safest place in Istanbul.”
Top image of Istanbul tunnel under construction via Wikipedia