As a child, I once went on a potholing experience with my school. You know, one of those adventure weekend sort of deals. It was a super interesting day, but I could never quite shake that feeling of being enclosed and vulnerable. As such, I soon filed potholing into that drawer in my head marked Glad I Did It, But Never Doing It Again.
I feel some type of way about escalators, too. In that case, though, it’s more a matter of being prone to travel sickness than anything else. My stomach does not appreciate suddenly being wrenched upwards/downwards, friends, it really does not. As far as my digestive system is concerned, there’s no such thing as a happy surprise.
What I’m getting at here is that tunnels also make me feel a little enclosed and edgy. There’s just that sense that something’s a little wrong, a little uncomfortable. And then your cell signal cuts out, like you’re in a Scooby Doo cartoon and the mean headmaster dressed as Dracula is going to leap out from somewhere.
Let’s not get down on tunnels altogether, though. They’re a miracle of engineering, that’s for dang certain. You can’t look at something like Geneva’s immense Hadron Collider without being all kinds of awed. As a general rule, though, they’re not the most inviting from a travelling standpoint. Buckle up for twenty tunnels that are sure to leave you feeling just a little bit uncomfortable.
Okay then. We’re going to kick this party off the right way, with this little doozy. How do you fancy driving along a fifteen mile stretch of tunnel, without a single window? What’s that, you don’t? You’d better steer clear of Sogn og Fjordane in Norway, then.
Here you’ll find the Laerdal Tunnel, one of the longest (completed) road tunnels in the world. It’s a drive of approximately twenty minutes, Popular Mechanics reports, and so its designers added subtle features (gentle curves, lighting and such) to ensure that motorists remain engaged on this otherwise-featureless journey.
It’s divided into sections, to give drivers the impression that they’re passing through several different tunnels rather than one long, continuous one.
Now, granted, the English and the French haven’t always been the closest of buddies. Over the course of their long histories, they’ve butted heads numerous times, over numerous issues. Still, as the famous song goes, Oooh oooh oooh oooh, la, la, la, la, la, la, why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends?
With those wise words in mind, the Channel Tunnel was constructed. One of the most impressive engineering feats of all time, this underwater tunnel between Britain and France is over thirty miles long. It was completed in 1994, at a cost of over $20 billion. Yes, it does give me the collywobbles, thanks for asking.
Oftentimes, we think of tunnels as simple shortcuts. A convenient, bland and grey method of cutting across the land from A to B. Granted, this is the case much of the time, but many tunnels are far, far more than that. Some are just so magnificent that tourists consider them attractions in their own right.
One example is the Jiucyudong Tunnel in Taiwan. Located in the beautiful Taroko National Park, this tunnel runs through cliffs and across a river, affording visitors a breath-taking view of the area’s geology. The natural beauty of the rocks brings dangers, though, and visitors can be issued with hardhats.
As we saw in the last entry, tunnels have a unique way of tempering beautiful views and vistas with just a dash of danger. If you’ve ever donned your hardhat and admired the stunning views of Taroko National Park, you’ll know that all too well.
If you’re game for that experience, you might also want to witness the spectacle that is the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel in Shanghai. As the name suggests, the viewing experience comes first, and the engineers pulled out all the stops there. Visitors ride automated cars beneath the Huangpu river, where intense lights and other effects await them. There’s also a disembodied voice that booms out words like MAGMA!
So, yes. If you want to be treated to the befuddling visual spectacle of your life, the Bundt Sightseeing Tunnel is the place for you. It’s the nerve-jangling experience of a lifetime. So is this next tunnel, come to that, in an entirely different sort of way.
We’re crossing over to San Francisco now, for a look at the Yerba Buena Island Tunnel. This vast structure is the world’s largest single bore tunnel, a busy cacophony of five lanes of traffic passing in both directions. Knowing how traffic can be at the best of times in the city, I guess that’s not surprising.
If Japan is renowned for anything, it’s for being a frontrunner in everything technological. If you’ve ever visited the fabled Akihabara (Electric Town), you’ll have witnessed that first-hand. This shopping district is a haven for technophiles.
Elsewhere in Tokyo, you’ll find the Gate Tower Building. It’s a huge office building like any other in a major city, but with one key difference:
floors 5, 6 and 7 of the building, as My Science Academy reports, are part of a highway which passes right through the building.
Thanks to some brilliant engineering, the building and the highway are not actually in contact and the building is protected from noise pollution.
Sometimes, don’t look down just doesn’t quite cover it. Don’t look at all is probably the way to go. When it comes to the Guoliang Tunnel, this is definitely one of those times.
This awe-inspiring tunnel was built through the Taihang mountains of China. Traffic began passing through in 1977, and one heckola of a sight met their eyes. This large tunnel (almost 4000ft long) is peppered with large window-like gaps, which look straight out over the mountains. If you’re used to passing along narrow mountain roads, this may not be much of a big deal for you, but for the rest of us? This isn’t a drive for the faint hearted.
Ah, yes. Here we see a happy, wild tunnel in its natural habitat. What better home for a marvel of engineering than the Illinois Institute of Technology?
Chicago’s impressive ‘L’ tunnel is recognised by that unmistakable stainless steel tube, which was implemented to combat all the noise of the rails as they passed directly over the campus. As you can see, residents couldn’t be any closer to the trains if they were waiting on the platform themselves, so this was a vital insulating touch.
As was the support structure’s design. My Science Academy explains that said structure is not shared by the building itself, to reduce vibration as much as possible.
Next up on our world tour of remarkable, impossible and frightening tunnels, we’re heading back to Europe. That formidable mountain range, the Alps, to be more precise.
At the base of the mountains lies the Frejus Rail Tunnel, which provides essential passage between Italy and France.
This vast and intimidating tunnel system is the biggest in Europe and is incredibly old in places. The earliest branch began construction in 1871. Ever since then, the Frejus system has expanded and expanded, making for quite a bewildering warren of passageways, for trains as well as cars and other vehicles. It’s a frightening prospect.
Now, I can appreciate this. I really can. In a world that is too often full of bland, clinical, uniformly grey and boring tunnels, this is exactly what I like to see.
You’re looking at a natural cherry blossom tunnel in Bonn, Germany.
This parade of cherry trees runs straight through the centre of the city, providing a beautiful canopy for visitors and locals every spring. What’s not to like?
Well, I’ll tell you. The sad flaw in this natural design is, of course, that it’s so fleeting. A visitor attraction in its own right, the people of Bonn have only a week or so to enjoy it each year. What if you miss out?
We’re about halfway through this rundown now, and we’re starting to put together a picture of the sorts of tunnels that architects and planners tend to go for.
There are a few different varieties. Three, I’d say. There’s the bog-standard plain tunnel, the natural, scenic tunnel and then there’s… well, the miscellaneous tunnel. The let’s be super artsy just for the heckola of it tunnel.
This urban rainbow tunnel was devised by USA artist Bill Fitzgibbon. It’s found in Birmingham, Alabama, and the effect was created by 250 LED lights. I mean, sure, it’s quite pretty, but what about the poor souls who just cannot cope with this much brightness? It’s like a little rave party in there.
Oh. Oh oh oh. Remember my anecdote about potholing? That was mostly inspired by this entry. This is a very special, very ancient tunnel, and gives me that claustrophobic feeling more than any other we’ve looked at today.
Hezekiah’s Tunnel (or the Siloam Tunnel, as it’s also known) is one of the oldest in the world. It is said to date back to around 8th century BC, and is found beneath the streets of Jerusalem. Visitors can still access this wonder of the ancient world, and traveling through it (in knee-deep water for some of the journey) is a highlight of any trip. For those who dare, of course.
The answer, for the curious, is when it’s a tunnel.
That’s right, friends. If you’re a keen and knowledgeable US traveller, you’ll probably have visited the Sequoia National Park. Located in Sierra Nevada, east of Visalia, California, the park is known for one thing: its sequoia trees. These magnificent specimens are some of the largest and longest-lived trees on the planet. Among their number is General Sherman, the largest tree in the world.
In 1937, one of these magnificent trees fell across a road in the park. What did the rangers do? They cut an 8ft tall, 17ft wide tunnel straight through the trunk, that’s what. Passing through that would make me super nervous, I must admit.
Now, we’ve already discussed mountain roads. Are they for me? They are not. I suppose it’s just a matter of my upbringing. Living in London, I’m super familiar with dang busy roads and traffic jams. They really don’t bother me at all any more. Quiet, noarrow roads, however? Precariously close to edges? That, I cannot do.
The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel in Utah leaves me feeling some type of way. This convenient route reduced the distance from Zion to Bryce by 70 miles, and is still in use. It features several ‘windows’ cut into the sandstone walls, which give you an impressive view if you dare to look.
Our next stop is Spain, where the L’Oceanográfic oceanarium is home to something very, very special. The centre itself is something of a tourist hotspot, being the second largest marine life centre in Europe (only behind Moscow’s magnificent Moskvarium). The centre is found in Valencia and features a tunnel over 230ft long. Here, visitors can get a little closer to the marine animals than they may have bargained for.
It’s designed in such a way that various species will swim all around you as you pass through and is lit especially to reflect your closeness to the exhibits. You may not appreciate that, when the sharks start to approach.
As we’ve already seen, when it comes to US National Parks and creative tunnels, California’s Sequoia National Park really takes the cake. After all, you need to have a special kind of chutzpah to simply cut straight through a fallen tree and make that a tunnel.
We’re crossing straight back over to the home of General Sherman once more, though, because there’s another fascinating thing I haven’t mentioned yet. The park is also home to Tunnel Rock, a huge granite boulder which the original roadbuilders dug beneath in the thirties. It’s no longer part of the road, but visitors can still walk beneath it.
Next, we’re hopping back over the pond to Britain. Thorough the history of Wales, tunnels (and the railways thereof) have been a vital part of the country’s industry. As time has gone on, more and more of these have become obsolete, and many now stand abandoned.
In 2015, Wales Online reports, efforts to renovate and re-open one of the more prominent of these, the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway Tunnel, began. It was quite a project, and quite a sight to venture into the place again. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to venture into by yourself, that’s for certain.
As we’ve seen over the course of this rundown, tunnels can make us nervous for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes, they’re super super long, and you start to wonder if you’re ever going to reach civilisation again. Other times, they wind a little too close to precarious edges.
The abandoned, forgotten ones don’t really need to be particularly big or precarious. They’re just not the sorts of place you want to spend a nice day out with Grandma Sally. Much like the Welsh Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway Tunnel, you don’t want to dilly-dally as you pass through the Moonville Tunnel of Moonville, Ohio.
Now this is what I call a straight up, no-frills tunnel. There are no gimmicks here, no extravagant flashing lights or clownfish floating around your heads or any of that. It’s just you, a place a to go, and a long streak of clinical silver nothing to get you there.
You don’t get any more tunnel-y than the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel of Clear Creek County, friends. What is extraordinary about this one is its elevation, which is above 11,000 feet. It’s one of the highest tunnels in the world, and also the longest mountain tunnel in the interstate system. Now that’s an impressive feat.
This is it, friends. This is the big one. We’ve seen a lot of awe-inspiring and slightly frightening tunnels on our way here, but I think Switzerland have pipped the rest of the world to the post.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel is the huge, intimidating, head honcho of tunnels. Construction began in 1999, and was finally completed in 2016. It’s a railway tunnel through the Swiss Alps, largely intended to allow freight to be switched from heavy trucks to trains. It’s just a mind-boggling, awe-inspiring feat, which cost around 9½ billion CHF (Swiss and Liechtenstein francs). It’s both the longest and deepest traffic tunnel on the planet.
Resources: Popular Mechanics, USA Today, My Science Academy, Odd Stuff Magazine, Wales Online, The Lineup.