NewsEuropeTunnel between Spain and Morocco: is this one of the most ambitious project in the world feasible?

Tunnel between Spain and Morocco: is this one of the most ambitious project in the world feasible?

Published on : 02/08/2023 – 13:17

Mentioned for a long time, the project to connect Spain and Morocco by a tunnel under the Mediterranean has been officially put back on track. But obstacles persist.

In limbo for years, the tunnel project between Spain and Morocco has just been officially relaunched by Madrid and Rabat.

This file is one of the subjects raised by the two countries, wishing to intensify their partnership, during their bilateral summit last week in Morocco.

But the obstacles remain numerous and make its future more than uncertain.

  • One of the most ambitious projects in the world

Launched in 1979 by the King of Morocco Hassan II and his Spanish counterpart Juan Carlos Ierthis tunnel project under the Mediterranean aims to connect Africa and Europe by train, passing under the Strait of Gibraltar.

Two state companies, one Moroccan (Sned) and the other Spanish (Secegsa), headed by a mixed committee, have been set up to study its feasibility, which has given rise to numerous drillings, studies and trials for 40 years.

After considering several possibilities, these companies opted at the end of the 1990s for a tunnel bored under the sea, like the Channel Tunnel, with entry and exit points Malabata, in the Bay of Tangier. (Morocco), and Punta Paloma, near Tarifa (Spain).

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This work, considered one of the most ambitious in the world, would consist of two railway tunnels and a service and emergency gallery. It would have a length of 38.5 kilometers, 28 of which are under the sea, and a maximum depth of 475 meters.

  • 13 million tons of goods per year

By linking the rail networks of the two countries, it would function as a “catalyst for the European and African economy”, assures AFP Claudio Olalla, engineer and professor emeritus at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, who for a time worked on this project.

According to Secegsa, this infrastructure would allow the transit of more than 13 million tonnes of goods and 12.8 million passengers per year in the medium term, which “could contribute greatly to the economic development” of the western Mediterranean.

Spain is indeed Morocco’s leading trading partner – which exports a large part of its production, particularly agricultural, to the European Union. But the Strait of Gibraltar, where 100,000 ships pass each year, is already congested, which limits the transport of goods between the two countries.

  • Project back on track

The project had bogged down in recent years, due to budget cuts in Spain after the 2008 financial crisis, and a succession of diplomatic quarrels between Madrid and Rabat.

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But relations have normalized since Madrid agreed last year to support Moroccan positions in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The two countries have thus revived several bilateral subjects.

>> To read also: the origins of the crisis between Spain and Morocco around Western Sahara

An envelope was released in the Spanish budget in 2023 to finance a new study “necessary” to “launch the construction process”. And the restarting of the project was discussed during the bilateral summit on February 2 in Rabat.

“We are going to give a boost to the studies” on this “strategic project”, declared in a press release the Spanish Minister of Transport Raquel Sanchez, announcing the resumption of meetings of the committee bringing together Sned and Secegsa.

  • Logistical and political obstacles

The main problem is of a technical nature: the Strait of Gibraltar, located at the limit of the European and African tectonic plates, is a complex geological zone, with unstable clay portions and violent sea currents.

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“The quality of the soil is very poor. Nothing to do with the limestone rock found under the Channel”, underlines Claudio Olalla, for whom “the technical conditions are very unfavorable, much more than for any other tunnel” in the world.

A reality likely to weigh heavily on the costs, never quantified with precision. “Technically, the obstacles are not insurmountable, but the question of its economic viability arises”, adds the researcher.

Added to these problems are political obstacles, linked to the cyclical instability of relations between Madrid and Rabat and to potential European reluctance relating to a potential call for migratory air – unfounded fears, according to the promoters of the project.

What make its launch unlikely, in the short or medium term. “I think it will eventually see the light of day, but not tomorrow the day before”, judge Claudio Olalla.

With AFP

Source: France 24


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