Airo AV Divulge: PM's plan to build tunnel as part of a bridge between... - Jonathan Cartu Global Design, Architecture & Engineering Firm
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Airo AV Divulge: PM’s plan to build tunnel as part of a bridge between…

Maxton’s plan featured a bridge, a viaduct and a tunnel and was designed to carry trains propelled by electricity or compressed air. The vast underwater section, submerged to a depth of 60ft, would have been held in place by a system of anchors

Airo AV Divulge: PM’s plan to build tunnel as part of a bridge between…

Boris Johnson’s grand plan to build an undersea tunnel as part of a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland is 130 years old! (And here are the drawings that prove it)

  • Architect planned Northern Ireland and Scotland link more than 100 years ago
  • James Maxton’s ‘submerged bridge’ blueprint was given serious consideration 
  • His undersea tunnel link is remarkably similar to the Prime Minister’s proposal
  • Maxton estimated design would take less than six years at £5million cost in 1890 

It is Boris Johnson’s grand vision for a truly united kingdom – a vast bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland as ambitious as any Victorian feat of engineering.

But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the Prime Minister’s proposal for part of the route to use an undersea tunnel is remarkably similar to a blueprint given serious consideration 130 years ago.

Drawn up by Victorian naval architect James Maxton, the plans for a ‘submerged buoyant bridge’ are even couched in the same florid language loved by Boris.

Maxton’s plan featured a bridge, a viaduct and a tunnel and was designed to carry trains propelled by electricity or compressed air. The vast underwater section, submerged to a depth of 60ft, would have been held in place by a system of anchors

The Mail on Sunday last week revealed that Mr Johnson will soon receive results of a feasibility study into a 21st Century bridge and tunnel project. But modern-day engineers face challenges even more severe than those envisaged by Maxton

The Mail on Sunday last week revealed that Mr Johnson will soon receive results of a feasibility study into a 21st Century bridge and tunnel project. But modern-day engineers face challenges even more severe than those envisaged by Maxton

Details were delivered in a lecture to Belfast’s Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1890 and set out four options for routes across the Irish Sea to the mainland.

Acknowledging the challenges, Maxton warned: ‘Subaqueous tunnelling is proverbially one of the most uncertain undertakings in civil engineering. Unforeseen mishaps make even the most sanguine fear the results.’

While accepting ‘the engineering difficulties are stupendous’, he argued that ‘neither political nor military objections to the scheme are tenable’.

His favoured scheme would have run for nearly 22 miles from Donaghadee in County Down to Portpatrick in Scotland. 

Drawn up by Victorian naval architect James Maxton, the plans for a ‘submerged buoyant bridge’ are even couched in the same florid language loved by Boris

Drawn up by Victorian naval architect James Maxton, the plans for a ‘submerged buoyant bridge’ are even couched in the same florid language loved by Boris

Mr Johnson’s likeliest route is between Portpatrick and Larne in County Antrim.

Maxton’s plan featured a bridge, a viaduct and a tunnel and was designed to carry trains propelled by electricity or compressed air. 

The vast underwater section, submerged to a depth of 60ft, would have been held in place by a system of anchors.

The architect estimated his ‘submerged bridge’ would take less than six years to build and cost £5.25 million at 1890 prices, compared to current estimates of £20 billion.

His favoured scheme would have run for nearly 22 miles from Donaghadee in County Down to Portpatrick in Scotland, pictured above. Mr Johnson’s likeliest route is between Portpatrick and Larne in County Antrim

His favoured scheme would have run for nearly 22 miles from Donaghadee in County Down to Portpatrick in Scotland, pictured above. Mr Johnson’s likeliest route is between Portpatrick and Larne in County Antrim

Hailing the scheme at the time, Charles Dickens Junior, son of the famous novelist and president of Belfast’s Philosophical Society, wrote: ‘It would be totally impossible to estimate the advantage that would accrue to this country if railway communication could be established between Ireland and Scotland and England.’

Maxton was one of Britain’s most prominent naval architects, designing many of the vessels built in Belfast’s shipyards of the era.

As recently as 1956, his bridge and tunnel scheme was cited in parliamentary debates on the possibility of linking Scotland and Ulster.

The Mail on Sunday last week revealed that Mr Johnson will soon receive results of a feasibility study into a 21st Century bridge and tunnel project.

But modern-day engineers face challenges even more severe than those envisaged by Maxton. 

They have proposed a bridge-tunnel split as a way of dealing with Beaufort’s Dyke, the UK’s largest offshore dump site for conventional and chemical munitions after the Second World War.

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Jon Cartu

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