Imagine what it would be like if you could wake up in your New York City apartment at 7:00 a.m., and make it to your job in London, England by 9:30 in the morning. That would be a possibility if we dug tunnels between the two continents. Just try not to get sick.
Believe it or not, something like this is possible. How would we make a tunnel like this? How much would it cost?
That’s right, a tunnel like this is possible. I mean, a tunnel that’s similar to this already exists.
It’s called the Channel Tunnel, or Chunnel. And in just about 35 minutes, you can drive from England to France. Without it, you’d have to take either a ferry or a plane.
Compared to what we’d be building, the Chunnel is tiny at just over 50 km (31 miles). Our tunnel would be over 5,500 km (3,417 miles) if we want it to go from New York to London. So how would we make our tunnel?
Let’s use the Channel Tunnel as an example of what our tube might be like, to give us some context. The Channel Tunnel took six years to build, and it also took decades of planning before that. As for the price? If we were to build another Chunnel today, it would cost a whopping $13 billion.
Multiply these numbers by 100, as that’s how much bigger our tunnel would be, and you get the idea. This thing would take an incredibly long time, and would cost a ridiculous amount of money.
But let’s assume we’ve got all this covered, and we have unlimited time and money. Just because we have enough resources doesn’t mean we should be stupid in how we use them.
If we tried to avoid all the water and went underneath the seafloor, we’d have to bore through the ground from England all the way to America. This would take an incredibly long time.
And there’s always the possibility that the tunnel we built more than 5,000 meters (16,404 ft) underwater would cave in from the ocean’s pressure. Instead, the best way to make the tunnel might be like this. You would make one, massively long, 5,500 km (3,417 mile) tube and put it over the ocean.
Then, using anchors, you would drag the tube down about 45 meters (154 ft). You would then secure the tube using wires tied to the ocean’s floor.
Okay, now that we have our tunnel, what do we fill it with? Will we drive through it? Pfft, that’s so 21st century. Instead, we’ll be taking a train. I know, I know, that might sound even more old-school than using a car, but this won’t be just a regular train.
To travel through our tube so quickly, we’d need to use vactrains. This system would essentially act as a vacuum that would take all the air out of the tube. This will allow the train to travel at incredibly high speeds due to there being little or no air resistance.
Not only that, but our train would also be levitating, using high-powered magnets or with air, kind of like an air hockey table. After propelling the train forward with a high powered engine, it could cruise for hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers, since there’s no friction to stop it.
With this little resistance, the vactrain can go up to 8,000 km/h (4,970 mph). But we won’t be going that fast, as that could be incredibly dangerous– and not just for the train but for your physical well-being.
Instead, you’d be going about 2,000 km/h (1,242 mp/h), which is almost double the speed of sound. But don’t be too alarmed by this.
Your body should be able to handle it just fine. After all, the Concorde passenger jet flew this fast for years before it was decommissioned.
So it is possible that we’ll see a pipe that connects across the Atlantic Ocean one day, as long as we have enough money, time and resources. Now imagine that this supersonic train actually exists, and we could casually travel from Europe to America in just under an hour. Think about how industry, our economy, and travel would change.
Subscribe to What-If on Youtube or follow the show on Facebook Watch.
- “Consent Form | Popular Science”. Carl Hoffman, 2014. popsci.com. Accessed October 1 2019.
- “Transatlantic Tunnel: 54 Minutes To Travel From London To New York Through A Vacuum Tunnel”. Tiwari, Aditya. 2016. Fossbytes. Accessed October 1 2019.
- “The Case For Transatlantic Undersea Trains”. Bruce Dorminey, 2019. forbes.com. Accessed October 1 2019.
- “Is A Transatlantic Tunnel Technically Possible Today? How Feasible Would It Be?”. Engineering Stack Exchange. Accessed October 1 2019.
- “Transatlantic Maglev”. 2013. maglev.net. Accessed October 1 2019.
- “Vactrain”. 2018. en.wikipedia.org. Accessed October 1 2019.
- “25 Things You Might Not Have Known About The Channel Tunnel“. Oliver Smith. 2019. The Telegraph. Accessed October 1 2019.
- “Channel Tunnel”. 2019. en.wikipedia.org. Accessed October 1 2019.