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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Almanac/Deep Sea Travel

Air Date: Week of March 7, 2003

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This week, we have facts about the Seikan Tunnel. The world's longest underwater tunnel connects two of Japan's major islands and opened fifteen years ago this week.

Transcript

ROSS: Welcome back to Living On Earth, I'm Pippin Ross.

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ROSS: Fifteen years ago this week, a Japanese express train took a deep dip under the sea, marking the opening of the world's longest underwater tunnel. Before the tunnel was built, ferry boats were the only option for people traveling between two of Japan's northern islands, Hokkaido and Honshu. But that meant passengers had to brave the notoriously treacherous waters of the Tsugaru Straight. In 1954, a massive typhoon sank five ferries trying to cross the Straight, claiming more than 1100 lives. That tragedy prompted engineers to develop a safer underwater route. They drilled their way through volcanic rock and nine major fault lines with a long cone-shaped machine that laid down cement as it went along. Flooding was an occasional problem, and halfway through the project an extensive flood took months to get under control.

More than two decades later, the 33-mile tunnel was complete. In March, 1988, the Seikan Rail Tunnel opened to the public. Nowadays, the airlines are the tunnel's major competitors, but at the height of its popularity, the underwater express shuttled three million people a year. So, in a campaign to keep its deep sea travelers, the tunnel's railway owners have introduced a new enticement, karaoke.

And for this week, that's the Living On Earth Almanac.

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