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Istanbul Opens Underwater Tunnel
October 30, 2013

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An underwater railway tunnel now links Europe and Asia, as well as the two sides of Turkey's capital, Istanbul.

The Marmaray tunnel, officially opened by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a ceremony that also featured Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, runs 8.5 miles under the Bosporus, the straits that joins the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. At its deepest, the tunnel is 180 feet below sea level, with a 5,000-foot section under the seabed itself. Engineers say that the tunnel, built in sections fused by flexible joints, can withstand a 9.0-magnitude earthquake. (Smaller quakes are quite common in the region, and 7.6-magnitude quake nearby killed 17,000 people in 1999.)

Two road bridges now cross the Bosporus, and a third is under construction. Residents of and visitors to Istanbul regularly comment on traffic problems in the city. Trains running through the new tunnel are projected to carry 1.5 million passengers a day, reducing car traffic, the government estimates, by 20 percent. Erdogan's dream is to connect the tunnel railway with a newer route that facilitates travel between Europe and China.

Construction on the tunnel began in 2005 and was supposed to take four years. Builders digging under Istanbul made a number of archaeological discoveries, including a 4th Century port from the Byzantine era.

The ceremony to open the tunnel, which cost $2.8 billion, occurred on the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The immediate predecessor to the Turkish Republic was the Ottoman Empire, and it was Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid who first proposed a sub-Bosporus tunnel at the end of the 19th Century.
Abe was in attendance to mark Japan's large contribution to the construction of the tunnel. Japan's own Seikan tunnel, which links the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, is the world's deepest tunnel, at 790 feet below sea level.

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