An the street from Gibraltar Africa is within reach from Europe. The strait is almost 14 kilometers wide. It has long attracted migrants and smugglers. Now Spain and Morocco want to get even closer: A tunnel is supposed to connect the continents. After the two countries have resolved their diplomatic crisis, they are working more closely together again and are now looking to complete an old plan. The model is the Eurotunnel from Calais to Dover. The new route will be more than 40 kilometers long and will probably start near Tarifa west of Gibraltar and end on the other side of the Atlantic at Tangier; almost 30 kilometers of it run under the sea. The journey to Africa could then take half an hour. Vehicles would be loaded onto trains, high-speed trains could run – almost 300 meters below the sea surface.
After years of standstill, both sides are stepping up the pace. The Moroccan government commissioned the Director General of the National Society for Studies in the Strait of Gibraltar to take the project forward. The Spanish parliament is providing 750,000 euros for a new study in the state budget for next year. The state-owned Secegsa company was founded 40 years ago, after the Spanish king in 1979 Juan Carlos I and the Moroccan monarch Hassan II had reached agreement on the plan at a meeting in Fez.
Initially, a floating bridge was discussed
Several attempts got stuck under the strait, which is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The variant “Cañón del Estrecho” between Punta Canales and Punta Cires was soon eliminated. It would have been only 14 kilometers long, but for geological reasons it would have had to be drilled at a depth of 900 meters. The idea of a bridge was also scrapped. It would have had a span of up to 5000 meters and towers hundreds of meters high. A floating bridge with tunnels and an artificial island was also initially discussed. The original plan is much older. In 1869, the French engineer Jean Baptiste Berlier, who invented the pneumatic tube in Paris, brought it up.
Construction is now expected to take around 15 years and costs at least five billion euros. That sounds optimistic because it will be one of the most expensive construction projects of this type with major technical challenges. According to “elDiario.es”, the Spanish planners are in contact with Herrenknecht AG in Baden-Württemberg, the market leader for tunnel boring machines. “In view of the advances in the technical possibilities of drilling and propulsion systems and the recent experience in the construction of deep tunnels in the seabed, there are increasingly favorable prospects,” says Secegsa optimistically.
Many could benefit from the connection
The European Union is also interested, because this could create the first railway line to Africa. Madrid is hoping for money from the Covid recovery fund. “Green” hydrogen and electricity produced with regenerative energy sources could also be transported to Europe through the tubes. Morocco has been driving a green revolution with German support for years. After the outbreak of the Ukraine war, the Moroccan government is also examining the construction of a gas pipeline from Nigeria to Morocco, which could lead through the tunnel to Europe.
In London, post-Brexit, the Crown Colony in Gibraltar would be better oriented Africa network. The tunnel construction could also provide an important impetus for the region around the port of Algeciras. Apart from the port, which is one of the largest in Spain, there is little work there. The “Campo de Gibraltar” is one of the structurally weakest areas in Spain with youth unemployment of up to 80 percent. Many try their luck in drug smuggling.
However, some preparatory work still needs to be done in Spain. Some already dream of high-speed trains that would take you directly from Madrid to the Moroccan capital Rabat in a few hours – and one day further to Casablanca and Marrakech. There is already an express train running from Tangier to Rabat, but only a slow train to Algeciras. A connection to the AVE high-speed network is missing, while the “Mediterranean Corridor” from France to Algeciras is still not ready.
Many Moroccans from Germany would also benefit from the tunnel. Every summer, a large convoy of vehicles sets off from Central Europe towards North Africa. Most of them board one of the numerous ferries in Algeciras and Tarifa. During the recent “Operación Paso del Estrecho” – the crossing of the straits that Spain and Morocco organize every year with military precision – there were 2.9 million passengers in almost 700,000 vehicles.