Seikan Tunnel

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Seikan Tunnel
Seikantunnel - Tsugaru street detail.PNG
Map of the Seikan Tunnel
Location Beneath the Tsugaru Strait
Coordinates Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.
Status Active
Start Honshu
End Hokkaido
Opened 13 March 1988
Owner Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency
Operator JR Hokkaido
Track length 53.85 kilometres (33.46 mi)
(23.3 kilometres (14.5 mi) undersea)
No. of tracks double track rail tunnel
Track gauge Mixed
Electrified Yes
Operating speed 140 km/h (85 mph)

The Seikan Tunnel (青函トンネル Seikan Tonneru or 青函隧道 Seikan Zuidō) is a 53.85 km (33.46 mi) dual gauge railway tunnel in Japan, with a 23.3 km (14.5 mi) long portion under the seabed. The track level is about 100 metres (330 ft) below the seabed and 240 m (790 ft) below sea level.[1] It extends beneath the Tsugaru Strait—connecting Aomori Prefecture on the main Japanese island of Honshu with the northern island of Hokkaido—as part of the standard gauge Hokkaido Shinkansen and the narrow gauge Kaikyo Line portion of the Hokkaido Railway Company (JR Hokkaido)'s Tsugaru-Kaikyō Line. The name Seikan comes from combining the on'yomi readings of the first characters of Aomori (青森?), the nearest major city on the Honshu side of the strait, and Hakodate (函館?), the nearest major city on the Hokkaido side.

The Seikan Tunnel is the deepest operational main-line rail tunnel in the world and the second longest after the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland.[2] While the Seikan Tunnel is also the longest undersea tunnel in the world, the Channel Tunnel between the United Kingdom and France has a longer undersea portion.[3]


Location of the Tsugaru Strait in Japan
Train approaching Tappi-Kaitei Station, in July 2008

Connecting the islands Honshu and Hokkaido by a fixed link had been considered since the Taishō period (1912–1925), but serious surveying commenced only in 1946, induced by the loss of overseas territory at the end of World War II and the need to accommodate returnees. In 1954, five ferries, including the Toya Maru, sank in the Tsugaru Strait during a typhoon, killing 1,430 passengers. The following year, Japanese National Railways (JNR) expedited the tunnel investigation.[4] Also of concern was the increasing traffic between the two islands. A booming economy saw traffic levels on the JNR-operated Seikan Ferry double to 4,040,000 passengers/year from 1955 to 1965, and cargo levels rose 1.7 times to 6,240,000 tonnes/year. In 1971, traffic forecasts predicted increasing growth that would outstrip the ability of the ferry pier facility, which was constrained by geographical conditions.

In September 1971, the decision was made to commence work on the tunnel. A Shinkansen-capable cross section was selected, with plans to extend the Shinkansen network.[4] Arduous construction in difficult geological conditions proceeded. 34 workers were killed during construction.[5] On 27 January 1983, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone pressed a switch that set off a blast that completed the pilot tunnel. Similarly on 10 March 1985, Minister of Transport Tokuo Yamashita symbolically bored through the main tunnel.[4]

The success of the project was questioned at the time, as the 1971 traffic predictions were overestimates. Instead of the traffic rate increasing as predicted to a peak in 1985, it peaked earlier in 1978 and then proceeded to decrease. The decrease was attributed to the slowdown in Japan's economy since the first oil crisis in 1973 and to advances made in air transport facilities and longer-range sea transport.[6]

The tunnel was opened on 13 March 1988, having cost a total of ¥538.4 billion (US$3.6 billion) to construct.[7] Once the tunnel was completed, all railway transport between Honshu and Hokkaido used it. However, for passenger transport, 90% of people use air due to the speed and cost. For example, to travel between Tokyo and Sapporo by train takes more than nine hours, with several transfers. By air, the journey is three hours and thirty minutes, including airport access times. Deregulation and competition in Japanese domestic air travel has brought down prices on the Tokyo-Sapporo route, making rail more expensive in comparison.[8]

The Hokutosei overnight train service began after the completion of the Seikan Tunnel, and a later and more luxurious Cassiopeia overnight train service was often fully booked. Both were withdrawn following the commencement of Hokkaido Shinkansen services in March 2016, with freight trains being the only regular service utilising the narrow gauge line since that time.

Shinkansen trains operate through the tunnel to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station in Hakodate, connecting Tokyo and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto stations in four hours and two minutes, at a maximum speed of 140 km/h (85 mph) within the tunnel and 320 km/h (200 mph) outside it.[9] The final stage is proposed to open to Sapporo Station in 2031 and is proposed to shorten the Tokyo-Sapporo rail journey to five hours. The Hokkaido Shinkansen will be operated by JR Hokkaido.

Construction timeline

  • 24 April 1946: Geological surveying begins.[4]
  • 26 September 1954: The train ferry Toya Maru sinks in the Tsugaru Strait.[4]
  • 23 March 1964: Japan Railway Construction Public Corporation is established.[4]
  • 28 September 1971: Construction on the main tunnel begins.[4]
  • 27 January 1983: Pilot tunnel breakthrough.[4]
  • 10 March 1985: Main tunnel breakthrough.[4]
  • 13 March 1988: The tunnel opens.
  • 26 March 2016: Shinkansen services commence operation through the tunnel, regular narrow gauge passenger services through the tunnel cease.

Surveying, construction and geology

Tsugaru Strait traffic data
Year Passengers
Freight (t/yr) Mode
1955 2,020,000 3,700,000 Seikan Ferry[4]
1965 4,040,000 6,240,000 Seikan Ferry[4]
1970 9,360,000 8,470,000 Seikan Ferry[4]
1985 9,000,000[t 1] 17,000,000 1971 Forecast[4]
1988 ~3,100,000 Seikan Tunnel[8]
1999 ~1,700,000 Seikan Tunnel[8]
2001 >5,000,000 Seikan Tunnel[8]
  1. This may be a typographical error in the source
Typical tunnel cross section. (1) Main tunnel, (2) service tunnel, (3) pilot tunnel, (4) connecting gallery
Profile diagram of the underwater section of tunnel

Surveying started in 1946, and construction began in 1971. By August 1982, less than 700 metres of the tunnel remained to be excavated. First contact between the two sides was in 1983.[7] The Tsugaru Strait has eastern and western necks, both approximately 20 km (12 mi) across. Initial surveys undertaken in 1946 indicated that the eastern neck was up to 200 metres (656 feet) deep with volcanic geology. The western neck had a maximum depth of 140 metres (459 feet) and geology consisting mostly of sedimentary rocks of the Neogene period. The western neck was selected, with its conditions considered favourable for tunnelling.[10]

The geology of the undersea portion of the tunnel consists of volcanic rock, pyroclastic rock, and sedimentary rock of the Neogene Period.[11] The area is folded into a nearly vertical syncline, which means that the youngest rock is in the centre of the strait and encountered last. Divided roughly into thirds, the Honshū side consists of volcanic rocks (andesite, basalt etc.); the Hokkaido side consists of sedimentary rocks (Tertiary period tuff, mudstone, etc.); and the centre portion consists of Kuromatsunai strata (Tertiary period sand-like mudstone).[12] Igneous intrusions and faults caused crushing of the rock and complicated the tunnelling procedures.[10]

Initial geological investigation occurred from 1946 to 1963, which involved drilling the sea-bed, sonic surveys, submarine boring, observations using a mini-submarine, and seismic and magnetic surveys. To establish a greater understanding, a horizontal pilot boring was undertaken along the line of the service and main tunnels.[10] Tunnelling occurred simultaneously from the northern end and the southern. The dry land portions were tackled with traditional mountain tunnelling techniques, with a single main tunnel.[10] However, for the 23.3-kilometre undersea portion, three bores were excavated with increasing diameters respectively: an initial pilot tunnel, a service tunnel, and finally the main tunnel. The service tunnel was periodically connected to the main tunnel with a series of connecting shafts, at 600- to 1,000-metre intervals.[12] The pilot tunnel serves as the service tunnel for the central five-kilometre portion.[10] Beneath the Tsugaru Strait, the use of a tunnel boring machine (TBM) was abandoned after less than two kilometres (1.2 miles) owing to the variable nature of the rock and difficulty in accessing the face for advanced grouting.[11][10] Blasting with dynamite and mechanical picking were then used to excavate.


A 2002 report by Michitsugu Ikuma described, for the undersea section, that "the tunnel structure appears to remain in a good condition."[13] The amount of inflow has been decreasing with time, although it "increases right after a large earthquake."[13]


Yoshioka-Kaitei Station platform in the Seikan Tunnel

Initially only 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow-gauge track was laid through the tunnel, but in 2005 the Hokkaido Shinkansen project started construction which included laying dual-gauge track (providing standard gauge track capability) and extending the Shinkansen network through the tunnel. Shinkansen services to Hakodate commenced in March 2016, and are proposed to be extended to Sapporo by 2031. The tunnel has 52 km (32 mi) of continuous welded rail.[14]

Two stations are within the tunnel: Tappi-Kaitei Station and Yoshioka-Kaitei Station. They serve as emergency escape points. In the event of a fire or other disaster, the stations provide the equivalent safety of a much shorter tunnel. The effectiveness of the escape shafts at the emergency stations is enhanced by having exhaust fans to extract smoke, television cameras to help route passengers to safety, thermal (infrared) fire alarm systems, and water spray nozzles.[7] Before the construction of the Hokkaido Shinkansen, both stations contained museums detailing the history and function of the tunnel that could be visited on special sightseeing tours. The museums are now closed and the space provides storage for work on the Hokkaido Shinkansen.[15] The two were the first railway stations in the world built under the sea.[citation needed]

See also


  2. "Switzerland Is Opening the World's Longest-Ever Rail Tunnel". CityLab. Retrieved 2016-05-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Archived from the original on August 8, 2009. Retrieved July 19, 2009. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  5. "Japan Opens Undersea Rail Line". Associated Press. 14 March 1988. p. 6B.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Galloway, Peter (25 February 1981). "Japan's super tunnel a political nightmare". Special to The Globe and Mail. p. 15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Morse, D. (May 1988). "Japan Tunnels Under the Ocean". Civil Engineering. 58 (5): 50–53.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Takashima, S. (2001). "Railway Operators in Japan 2: Hokkaido (pdf)" (PDF). Japan Railway and Transport Review. 28: 58–67.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "東京―新函館4時間10分 北海道新幹線、16年春開業". Nihon Keizai Shimbun. 16 April 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  11. 11.0 11.1 Paulson, B. (1981). "Seikan Undersea Tunnel". American Society of Civil Engineers, Journal of the Construction Division. 107 (3): 509–525.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  13. 13.0 13.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  14. "Seikan Tunnel Museum". 記念館案内 青函トンネル記念館 公式ホームページ. Retrieved 2006-05-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "March 2006". Retrieved 2006-05-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links