Revealed: ambitious plan for six-line, isles-wide underground rail network

Click on image to enlarge.

Shetland has not traditionally been a popular destination among train spotters. But all that could be about to change for the SIC has conjured up an innovative solution to the head­ache of how to connect dis­parate rural communities – an under­ground tube system spanning the length and breadth of the isles.

It is understood the idea – erroneously placed on the local authority’s website earlier this week before swiftly being removed – was first floated by bright-thinking transport officials in January. It has now developed into a key component of a £400,000 study into subsea tunnels recently approved by councillors.

The Shetland Times can exclu­sively reveal that the ambitious plans would see six separate tube lines built, including a north-south route stretching from Sumburgh to Norwick and an east-west line span­ning Foula and Skerries (see map). If the so-called “Shetland Tube” project is to succeed in linking each of the community’s populated islands, at least eight subsea tunnels will be needed.

In a move likely to go some way towards healing divides within the Whalsay community, its under­ground line will stop at both North Voe and South Voe. As part of on­going efforts to regenerate Fetlar, the island would get its own direct underground connection with Lerwick.

Indeed, the scheme appears to knit together a whole raft of existing council initiatives – just the sort of “joined-up thinking” which officials are being urged to foster under chief executive Alistair Buchan.

Building on the sterling work of the economic development unit’s Mar­vin Smith in modernising broad­band provision, the tube system would enable the council to integrate power, phone and internet services into a single, easy-to-maintain network.

The underground also makes good sense from multiple engineer­ing perspectives: the most expensive parts of tunnels to build are “access” and “egress” points, but replacing these with pedestrian access points could save up to 70 per cent of the construction cost.

In addition, a special underwater model of the pioneering Ditch Witch machine used to lay a fibre optic cable between Lerwick and May­wick will be used to help build the vast network of tunnels which the “Shetland Tube” would require.

With the activities of the average Shetlander causing 22 tonnes of carbon to be spewed into the atmos­phere every year, the all-electric new railway system would dram­atically slash the isles’ carbon footprint. Reclaimed rock would be commandeered for the Viking Energy windfarm, eliminating the need for any borrow pits.

A purpose-built commuter line would run between Lerwick and Sullom Voe, with ever-philanthropic oil and gas giants BP and Total under­stood to have generously pledged £500 apiece towards the construction cost.

Mr Buchan was much too busy working on his improvement plan to discuss the idea yesterday. But sources close to the local authority’s most senior official said Mr Buchan was “decidedly miffed” at having failed to persuade officials to exam­ine a tunnel/rail link with his native Orkney.

A number of senior councillors – including convener Sandy Cluness – are thought to be so energised by the scheme that they are reconsider­ing plans to retire at next year’s election in order to oversee its implementation.

Controversially, National Trust-owned Fair Isle appears to have been excluded entirely from the plans – prompting outspoken South Main­land councillor Allison “Flea” Dun­can to hit out at what he coined a “brazen example of pro-North Isles bias” within civic circles. Asked by a reporter whether the prospect of a door-to-door connection from his home to Mareel would be of any consolation, Mr Duncan spontane­ously combusted.

Jim Brown, director of the plan­ned film Between Weathers, said the underground link would eliminate the logistical challenges of shooting a movie in Fetlar. If it is completed in time, he may even incorporate a getaway train into a nail-biting closing sequence.

Report by Pilar Lofo with additional reporting by A N Agram


Add Your Comment
  • Ted Knight

    • April 1st, 2011 7:04

    A London pal, who, like me, scans the ST online, buzzed me with the news – have to confess folks, I blinked twice before glancing at the date! But what a breathtaking moment to be sure.

    Well done all concerned.

  • David Polson

    • April 1st, 2011 8:52

    Now that The Shetland Times has finally revealed one of the Council’s better kept secrets, I feel I must address the scurrilous accusations regarding my integrity which have been maliciously circulating in certain quarters. I wish to point out that, despite my position within Transport Services, I had no influence whatsoever in the extension of the “Whalsay Tunnel” line to Isbister. The fact that I expect to inherit property in Isbister is purely coincidental. I would urge those parties spreading these rumours to cease immediately.
    P.S. Stunning house sites available soon on the east coast of Whalsay, with excellent connections to Lerwick and Sullom Voe, £50,000 each, contact me for details.

  • Michael Almond

    • April 1st, 2011 12:07

    I have passed on this news to my brother in the Falklands. The government there will be green with envy. Keep up the good work!

  • Carol Gifford

    • April 1st, 2011 12:15

    This must be an April fool.

  • Kit Green

    • April 1st, 2011 14:48

    Please take Boris off our hands in London. He could be a big bonus to the scheme.

  • Kit Green

    • April 1st, 2011 14:49

    ….and Bob Crow could be useful to you too.

  • Tommy Hyndman

    • April 1st, 2011 15:04

    Fair Isle has some other news to unviel today! check out the plans for the New Sea Bird Center.

  • Adam Jarvis

    • April 1st, 2011 19:20

    I’m just hoping there are no ‘Boris Johnson’ type Council Officials who decide to ban alcohol on the newly built tube too. If there is one last bastion of freedom left on Shetland, drinking on public transport must remain!

    I personally think the money should be spent on bus lanes and average speed cameras. Trials in Wales of placing temporary traffic lights for periods of 2 or more years has proved effective at slowing traffic. The reds, yellows and greens certainly brighten up a dull spring day.

  • Andrew Sutherland

    • April 2nd, 2011 4:31

    If this is for real, go for it ! At least one bureaucat has some forsight , and think of the winter months where Islanders will still be able to move around irrespetive of the weather conditions.
    only wish “the powers that be” in this country had some forsight.

  • Ted Knight

    • April 2nd, 2011 10:20

    I suppose “Kit Green” must be a Green or Lib Dem if she wants to offload both Boris AND Bob onto the good folks of Shetland.

    Or, maybe, just a cruel person…………?

    On second thoughts (yes, a second of your time) just imagine these two ego-loops leading the UP HELLY Aa parade through the fair township of Lerwick! Birds of a feather?

  • Robert Williamson

    • April 3rd, 2011 18:18

    An important cost to include in this excellent proposal is the cost of wide screen monitors – one for each end of each carriage perpetually displaying moving images of a sunbathed shetland landscape passing effortlessly by – hill, sheep, sea. Contented commuters will never cease to be surprised (perhaps a little confused) and occasionally a little delighted at the weather conditions encountered on departure from their light airy comfortable tubes. And with ranks of hydrogen powered wee cars (developed in Unst) available at each tube halt, like bicycles in Amsterdam, not to mention powering the whole thing with wind from Viking Energy- what could possibly go wrong! Move on up SIC. What vision!

  • Iain Adam

    • April 7th, 2011 5:26

    This proposal reminds me of the proposed bridge to Bressay – April fools….

  • fiona johnston

    • April 19th, 2011 22:52

    how long before hillswick/eshaness get a branch into the ollaberry track


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