26th September 2016
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

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,

  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.


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