Remote Scottish islands could soon be reached by car thanks to underwater tunnels

·3-min read
Remote Scottish islands could soon be reached by car thanks to underwater tunnels

A network of tunnels which would connect the Scottish islands is being “seriously thought about”, according to one UK member of parliament.

After a recent fact-finding trip to the Faroe Islands, Conservative minister Iain Stewart says this new way to connect the islands was “worth exploring”. He thinks talks should begin in the Orkney and Shetland archipelagos soon, due to the timescale of these ambitious projects.

Meeting with officials in the Faroes, Stewart says that their efforts show “it can be done”.

But the project would not be cheap, with the Faroe Island scheme having cost up to €23.5 million per kilometre of tunnel.

So the question is, will it go ahead in Scotland?

How the tunnel system works in the Faroe Islands

The Faroes have four underwater roadways connecting islands, with a fifth currently under construction. It is the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken in the archipelago, according to the contractors that carried it out.

It also opened the world’s first undersea roundabout in 2020 which features sculptures and light effects from Faroese artist Trondur Patursson.

All of the tunnels replace former ferry routes, dramatically cutting travel times in this remote archipelago between Iceland and Norway. The journey between the capital Torshavn and the village of Runavik was reduced from more than an hour to just 16 minutes when they opened.

Instead of investing in another round of ferries, do they explore building a network of tunnels?

Stewart argues that shipping is “one of the most polluting forms of transport” and tunnels could reduce this impact - “particularly as everyone electrifies their motor transport.”

Speaking about the possibility of linking Orkney and Shetland, he adds that as some of the inter-island ferries come to the end of their life in the near future, the question of what will replace them is valid.

“Instead of investing in another round of ferries, do they explore building a network of tunnels?”

How have Scottish politicians reacted to the idea?

The Scottish Government has already been exploring the possibility of building bridges or tunnels between islands and even the mainland. But there had been backlash at the suggestion from Stewart, Scotland Office minister and member of parliament for Milton Keynes in England.

“If Mr Stewart is interested in sharing any of the facts he has gathered from his trip, the Scottish Government would be more than willing to hear them, recognising, as Mr Stewart will of course respect, that transport is devolved,” a spokesperson for Scotland’s transport minister, Jenny Gilruth said.

Stewart is now set to have discussions with Scottish officials about the idea’s potential.

This isn’t the first expensive island crossing project to be proposed by the UK government either. In January it was revealed that Boris Johnson spent around £900,000 (more than €1 million) on an assessment of the plan to connect Scotland to Northern Ireland with a bridge or tunnel.

Known as the ‘Boris Bridge’ ideas included building a roundabout, similar to the one in the Faroe Islands, beneath the Isle of Man.

The proposal was rejected in 2021 as the feasibility study found it would be “impossible to justify” the complex and expensive build - €393 billion for a bridge and €245 billion for a tunnel.

“The benefits could not possibly outweigh the costs,” said Network Rail chair, Sir Peter Hendy, who led the investigation.

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