18th October 2017

Truth about tunnels (Alec Priest)

I was blyde to see John Tulloch’s letter in last week’s Readers’ Views. I thought I would add to his letter by addressing the desperate need to replace the obsolete Whalsay ferry service, with an up-to-date, sustainable, service.

The Shetland public need to be made aware of some information as to why there are so many people actively pushing for fixed links instead of unsustainable ferries.

In June 2010 the council were presented with flawed figures to vote on the future of the Whalsay service.

They were told the ferry option was £26 million and the tunnel was £83 million. The council still voted 11-10 in favour of pursuing tunnel options.

After looking in the SIC minutes, I found that the ferry cost was £60.8 million and the tunnel option was £57 million (both May 2010). The council official who presented the figures later apologised for presenting the wrong ferry figures.

The Scottish government have stated, if councils make requests for tunnels they will consider building them as our transport links, but to our dismay we find that a peedie number of council officials are still promoting building ferries and terminals in their proposed report to be sent to the Scottish government.

In 2010, the cost for replacing the Whalsay route with a new ferry service was £60.8 million. This would make the 2016 price, £71 million, the operating cost would be similar to the Yell sound service, at a gross cost of £5.8 million per annum (2015/16 costs).

Tunnel & Geoconsult, a leading Norwegian tunnelling company, gave a quote last week to build the 5.7km Whalsay tunnel and the 3.6km of roadworks required to connect the tunnel to the existing infrastructure, for £60 million, with an operating cost of £400,000 per annum (£70,000 per km).

In 2002, the proposed Yell Sound tunnel was quoted at £26.9-£32.5 million. Instead we went for the super-ferry option at a cost of £38,317,533 (Freedom of Information request from the finance department).

We have been faced with service cuts due to the cost of this service.

Over the past years we have been told over and over again that “we cannot afford to build a tunnel”, the thing is, how can we afford to pay for replacing the ferries which will cost £11 million more than the tunnel?

Interestingly, you only pay for the tunnel once it is complete, at the same time as the ferry service would stop. The repayment of the tunnel would begin, at the same rate as the operating cost of the ferry and would be paid off in just over 14 years (based on a loan interest rate of 3.5 per cent).

Considering the lifespan of a ferry service is 30 years and the minimum lifespan of a tunnel is 120 years, this will give Shetland an unrestrictive, cost effective inter-island transport system that can only have positive effects on the greater Shetland economy.

Alec Priest


  1. Davy Simmons

    Having been 34 times to Faroe in the last 40 years & experienced the benefit of their many tunnels ,the latest one being approx 10 miles with a round about in the middle with a branch going to one of the smaller villages ,The main tunnel runs from Sund to Runavick One just is amazed that we cannot even get a tunnel to Bresser ( the north mooth crossing what half a mile ?) Come on we would need to think about the future,

    • Steven Jarmson

      Don’t mention round-a-bouts in any context to the Council!!!
      They’ll put on one per mile!!!

  2. Aaron Smith

    What are the names of the officials making such bogus statements. And why are they not facing some kind of disciplinary action?

  3. Joseph Kay

    The “truth” is buried under sand, sea and rock.

  4. Alec Priest

    Not just any rock, as stated in Tunnel & Geoconsults Geological survey done on 28-29 MAy 2010, the rock between whalsay and the mainland is granittic gneiss and Quartzittic gneiss, very favourable rock formations for a drill and blast tunnel.

  5. Susan Williamson

    You only have to look at the increase in the population of Burra and Trondra after the fixed links were built to see one of the many benefits fixed links provide. 565 to 850 and 17 to 135 respectively.

    Why are these officials, who continually present mis-information and/or make huge mistakes that cost the SIC dearly, not facing disciplinary action, or at the very least, being given jobs where they don’t make the decisions?
    There appears to be no culpability within the council. There also seems to be little common sense.

  6. Wilbert Shearer

    Boy boy the number a folk outside a whalsay it’s wantin wis ta get a tunnel i feel a conspiracy building,mabye alec is fairt de council is gan ta gee wis a ferry fee yell.so replacing a ferry is 11 million more than a tunnel dat il be 83 million we de 12 million a tax added he’s forgotten aboot.dats some ship, you could buy 3 75 metre state of the art pelagic boats for dat, wir lookin at a 45-48 metre ferry.it most be right rivotin holidays at davy is haen spendin his time drivin trow tunnels a faroe, do most hae tunnel vision noo.i lik a hot country mesell.doos right aboot one thing der spent 50years trying ta get a tunnel ta bressay whaar is it.i hope common sense prevails at de meeting in the isle de morns night Whalsay is geen downhill lang enoff dis past 7yrs, i keen i can speak for a number a folk on dat statement. ps forgive me grammar.

  7. Eric Burgess-Ray

    If Alec Priest’s figures are correct why is everyone dithering about inter-island tunnels? Who are the people holding back sensible progress? I know there are people on these islands that are determined nothing is to change, and some of them must be the decision makers at SIC. It must be really annoying to those people that we have a great road system with good surfacing, and not rumbling around with the horse and cart.

    Money has been spent on island infrastructure for the good of islanders and visitors and someone has put the brakes on – someone needs a boot up the backside to get these islands out of the nineteenth century.

  8. Anne Gair

    I too agree with Alec Priest and Eric Burgess-Ray’s comments. It seems stupid to keep on going with ferries when there is a better alternative to travelling to Whalsay. A tunnel can be used every day, whereas the ferries can only run when the weather permits.
    Tunnel and Geoconsult seem to have given a reasonable price to build a tunnel which would mean the people of Whalsay would be able to get to the mainland easier and not have to rely on boat timings, (when they can run). At christmas they would be able to visit family that don’t live on Whalsay and vice versa. Shopping in town would be easier too, as people wouldn’t have to rush back for the last ferry, a tunnel makes so much sense.

  9. ian tinkler

    One £ billion in tunnels or for an interconnector for Viking Energy. I know which would do Shetland the most good. Out of interest how much tunnel do you get for £ one billion?

    • John Tulloch

      Norway’s Laerdal Tunnel (2000) holds the main road from Oslo to Bergen (bigger than Aberdeen). It is just over 15 miles long and cost £105 million. Add 52% for inflation, giving current cost of £160 million and you should get going on for 100 miles for your £1billion – and it’s a big tunnel:

      Recent figures from Faroe suggest a similar distance (c.100 miles) for your £1 billion – smaller road/tunnel, obviously, but more remote location so likely more expensive to do the work than in Norway itself.

  10. Steven Jarmson

    It’s high time the Council came out and told the truth.
    Bridges/tunnels will increase the viability of the islands. Not only that, the financial benfits accross Shetland will be felt by The many, not the few.
    The council fear that it will distract from centralising everything in Lerwick. They fear that benefits for the many will jeopardise their vision of a few, well connected, people controlling everything from Lerwick, for Lerwick.
    It’s not just those presenting the figures who should go, it’s the councillors too.
    Those who find it easier to take away from rural areas rather than see the benefits to everyone of a strong, viable rural Shetland, this includes strong, viable and financially strong islands contributing to our life instead of feeling like everything the Council does for them is a favour.
    Even a blind man can see the numbers and lifestyle benefits stack up in favour of fixed links.
    Shetlands dieing communities are a direct result of council policy.
    Maybe it’s about time more visionary people ran our islands instead of the self-serving, allbeit, very well connected people.

  11. John Irvine

    Good point Ian, which pretty much sums the whole VE fiasco up.

    There are a lot of young people who would like to stay but are leaving the isles because of the ferry service. I don`t think there is much doubt about it that in the long run if the isles are to continue to thrive than fixed links are imperative.

    I appreciate that ferry`s will no longer be needed so there will be no more jobs there but fixed links are surely a better option than the slow and sad decline of the islands we all love.

  12. Haydn Gear

    As a matter of comparative interest Ian, the channel tunnel from England to France cost £4.6 billion between 1988 and 1994 (23.5 miles ) which in today’s terms would be £12 billion and very likely a good deal upwards. In the present and looming climate of financial uncertainty, it’s probably time to consult with China. !!!!

    • ian tinkler

      Chunnel, three separate tunnels I believe, built with European Cooperation. That has to be a recipe for financial disaster. Need a fourth tunnel to hold all the red tape!! I would go for Norway’s Laerdal Tunnel type . It is just over 15 miles long and cost £105 million and not an Entente Cordial in sight. Have to watch out for Vikings though, spiky helmets could puncture the roof!!!

  13. Will John Anderson

    Whatever the arguments for tunnel’s/fixed links; one thing is for sure – The Gutcher, Belmont and perhaps to a slightly lesser degree the Vidlin; Laxo; and Symbister terminals, are in a very poor state of repair! These would need a complete rebuild and at quite a substancial price. Surely the time is fast approaching that these terminals will not be fit for purpose and common sense must be applied! Conclusion tunnels. I have just finished working on a Bridge, the Queensferry Crossing but the cost is enormous £1.3 billion!


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