Massive underwater tunnel now links Europe and Asia by rail

A new transit system in Turkey will provide an important economic link between Europe and Asia.

For the first time, the European and Asian sides of Istanbul are connected by rail.

The $4.5 billion Marmaray project plunges about 200 feet under the Bosphorus Strait and stretches about 42 miles. But it wasn't easy. The project took nine years to complete and ran five years over schedule (discovering the ancient Byzantine port of Theodosius was just one of the setbacks).

But officials believe the project was well worth the wait because it provides an important economic link between the two continents. Not only will the project provide a maximum daily capacity of 1.5 million for the estimated 2 million people who make the trip between the two sides of Istanbul daily -- reducing the notoriously bad traffic between the two sides by 20 percent -- but it will also reconnect important trade routes between the continents. The "Iron Silk Road," will provide a non-stop trade route connecting China to Western Europe by rail.

But not everyone is optimistic about the new transit system. Critics fear that the project was rushed along too quickly to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. The problem? The underwater tunnel sits just 11 miles from a major fault line, as The Atlantic Cities reports. Officials urge skeptics that the system is safe, calling it the "project of the century." But problems on the train's first day of service didn't do anything to ease those fears.

Photo: Flickr/Dieter Titz

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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