1. History
Up to the beginning of the XX century, the existence of great commercial (and military) fleets of the World Powerful Nations forced the construction of important facilities destined to connect the “seas” (navigable channels, cuts of isthmuses etc.) in a world wide concept of prevailing merchant transports in the “sense of the parallels”.
The transports development actual and future phase, introduces numerous examples, projects and constructions, of bridges and submarine tunnels that have the goal to connect the “grounds” with an increasing interest to develop the commercial routes also according to the orientation of the “meridians”.
2. Proposal
In this paper it is analyzed, in the present scenario of engineering knowledge and of the next future transport opportunities, the possibility, more times assumed in the past, to realize a railway link between Europe and Africa through the Channel of Sicily.
Such structure, destined in this suggestion only to the transport of goods, can be compared with other constructions currently in service, in phase of realization or planning.
Beside existing technology, the tunnel length (140-150 km) and the sea floor reduced depths make inevitable the subdivision to sections of reduced length by means of the formation of artificial islands (4 in the hypothesis of reference) in good part built with the materials resultant from the dig. Such islands, after completed construction, will replace the platforms installed for the excavation of the vertical wells, introduction and feeding of the T.B.M. and of the equipment of yard. The inevitable impact of these islands on the sea life can be minimised, or even changed in positive by an accurate environmental planning (e.g.: covering the perimeter with material rich of cavities for the colonisation of the sea organisms, assuring compatibility of the emerged surface with the stay of the migrant birds etc.). It is not improbable the future destination of one or more of these islands to the industry of the tourism.
3. Advantages
The subdivision in 5 sectors with 4 interruptions would let, conditionally to the contemporary service of an high number of T.B.M. (up to 30) reduce the real time of completing the dig, besides the inevitable uncertainties from geologic and geo-technique cause.
Since the geometry of the tunnel is hardly modifiable after completion, it is advantageous to foresee, already in boring phase, dimensions and dispositions enough to allow, in a future time, (if will vary some socio-economic conditions of the interested area, and the transport passengers will become meaningful), the enhance and the modification of the plant engineering so that to allow the passage of travellers trains. The hypothesis of such development is not completely remote considering the tourist-archaeological potentialities of the two sides of the Channel of Sicily.
The fact must be underlined that comparable infrastructures decidedly have “epochal” characteristics. The tendency to use some constructive phase of the great infrastructures, in economic key, with anti-cyclic function, is destined to become obsolete. This expedient, in the past, could be considered sustainable since the illusion to work in a “boundless” scenery from the point of view of the energetic resources and the ability of the environment to absorb the modifications introduced by mankind and to be regenerated himself.
In the immediate future all the great infrastructures must be conceived more and more for the reduction of the human impact on the natural environment and of the rationalisation (and reduction) of the primary energetic conversions.
4. Realisation of the tunnel
The realisation is divided in 4 phases at least:
  • Geologic research and executive project, planning and commissioning (for a period of about 4 years). The works for the construction of the tunnel include three phases (for an estimable length of about seven years).
  • Positioning of the 4 platforms for the building of the artificial islands (technique of the well) and beginning of the realization of the terminals (Pizzolato terminal and Cape Bon terminal).
  • Digging of the different sections of the tunnel (5 long sections) and building of the artificial islands.
  • Installing of all the technical systems (ventilation systems, drain systems…).
5. Results expected
It can be foreseen, both in the transports inside the EU and in the Africa countries (along the Mediterranean coast and also toward the inside) important geo-political consequences of the construction of the connection Europe-Africa and of all the correlated works (Messina bridge, adjustment railway nets, areas of exchanges etc.):
  • Increase of the transitory, direct and induced occupation, on the occasion of the activities of yard for the period of the jobs.
  • Displacement of European manufacturing industries and of middle technology following the reduction of the times and costs of transport of raw materials and ended products.
  • Increase-readjustment of the productions of the North Africa toward goods currently consumed only inside, because not exportable toward the EU as they are incompatible with the transports.
  • Increase of the European export toward the North Africa of consumption goods and products to high technology in consequence of the growth of the purchase ability.