Could the £1bn Sheffield to Manchester tunnel have clouds, trees and sunrise?

Zhongnanshan Tunnel in China
Zhongnanshan Tunnel in China

A £1 billion road tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester could feature clouds, trees and sunrise.

Earlier this week Highways England unveiled five options for the ‘Trans-Pennine Tunnel’ – all involving a road under the Peak District – to connect the M1 in South Yorkshire to the M60 around Manchester.

Highways England's preferred routes for a tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester.

Highways England's preferred routes for a tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester.

The plans have been described as ‘critical’ to boost the fortunes of Sheffield.

But the issue of the driver’s mental well-being along up to 20 miles of the dark tunnel has become a major consideration for the Department for Transport.

Now ministers have turned to a Scandinavian study which found the use of colours, lighting and patterns can help to mitigate the effects of claustrophobia, disorientation and tiredness during tunnel driving.

A 115-page government report released this week on the proposed Trans-Pennine tunnel refers to the world’s two longest road tunnels, the Lærdal Tunnel in Norway, 15.2 miles, and the Zhongnanshan Tunnel in China, 11.2 miles, which both use a range of bizarre techniques to ensure driver concentration.

In Norway, the Lærdal Tunnel, which takes around 22 minutes to drive through, uses lighting patterns in large caverns at every 6km interval to break the monotony and provide respite. These mountain caves use a combination of blue and yellow light, to give the illusion of driving into daylight every 6km, whilst golden light beamed onto the road mimics sunrise.

The Zhongnanshan Tunnel uses a combination of fake clouds, artificial vegetation and light patterns to keep drivers alert and stable.

The five proposed routes for the Trans-Pennine run through three ‘corridors’, joining the M1 at different spots between Sheffield and Barnsley. The tunnel under the Peak District could be as long as 20 miles - although may be just half that. The options report said it was ‘reasonable to assume that construction, for any corridor, could take approximately 10 years’. It said it was ‘not possible’ to come up with a figure for the cost, but it was safe to assume it would be ‘well in excess of £1bn’.