Europe Day: Celebrating some of Europe’s biggest infrastructure projects

Europe Day is a celebration of peace and unity in Europe. On 9th May, we recognise the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, an ambitious plan signed in 1950 to secure long-term peace in Europe.

Close relationships and connections between countries seems particularly important today, especially given the conflict in Ukraine.

To mark Europe Day, we’re exploring four impressive infrastructure projects connecting Europe – and keeping the continent at the forefront of construction innovation.

The world’s longest immersed tunnel connecting Denmark and Germany

Although Germany and Denmark are close neighbours, between the German island of Fehmarn and the Danish island of Lolland lies 18-km of the Baltic Sea, linked only by a ferry line. Now, construction is underway on an immersed underwater tunnel, the Fehmarn Belt, to carry both road and rail traffic between the countries.

The ambitious submerged design was chosen over a bridge to protect traffic from stormy weather conditions; at its deepest point, the tunnel will sit 35 metres below the water. But what’s most impressive is the length: at nearly 18 km long, the completed structure will become both the longest road and rail tunnel and the longest immersed tunnel in the world, surpassing the 13-km Marmaray Tunnel in the Bosporus, Turkey.

The underwater tunnel presents a number of engineering and technical challenges, including the sheer scale of the dredging needed. The tunnel will be formed of prefabricated elements assembled in Denmark, which will then be floated out to sea and lowered into trenches. 

Trains will be able to travel up to 200 km/h – so when the tunnel replaces the ferry link, crossing the border itself will take just a ten-minute drive. Importantly, on the European scale, the Fehmarn Belt will connect central Europe to the Nordics, creating widescale economic and cultural opportunities.

Expanding canals in France and Belgium for sustainable trade routes

Since the eighteenth century, canals have supported trade across Europe and fuelled economic growth. However, the depth of many older canals limits the size of vessels that can use them – creating bottlenecks on this key transport infrastructure.

In France and Belgium, a 107 km canal expansion is underway to link the Seine and Scheldt rivers. The new route will connect Paris to the North Sea and ports at Dunkirk, Antwerp and Rotterdam, as well as accommodating barges as large as 4,500 tonnes – far larger than the 650-tonne capacity of current routes.

The varied terrain will require six locks and three aqueducts, to carry the canal over two motorways and the Somme. One lock on the Ghent-Terneuzen in the Netherlands will become one of the largest in the world, at 427 metres long and 16.4 metres deep.

The canal expansion will help to reduce motorway traffic in France, lower carbon emissions from road freight and provide greater trading opportunities. By adapting and expanding older transport networks, this project showcases a sustainable way to solve Europe’s new challenges.

A new rail route between Austria and Italy deep beneath the Alps

Travelling across the Brenner Pass between Innsbruck in Austria and Bolzano in Italy is a popular route. Unfortunately, that means that this section of motorway is infamous for its traffic jams – and pollution in these narrow valleys is a serious concern.

A new railway tunnel beneath the Eastern Alps has been designed to alleviate the problem. The 55 km route will consist of two single track railways – which, when combined with an existing track, will become the longest underground railway connection in the world.

Tunnelling between the Alps is no mean feat. At the Hochstegen construction site, engineers are contending with a fault zone containing extremely complex geological conditions, including 500m of water-bearing rock layers. Preliminary sealing and stabilisation injections will be needed to safeguard the excavations.

When the project is completed in 2032, it will more than halve travel times from Innsbruck to Bolzano to just 50 minutes. Importantly, the rail will also form a part of the Berlin-Palermo axis, a single railway line connecting central and southern Europe for easier travel across the continent.

An automated Metro to serve Paris and its visitors

In 1900, the Paris Metro underground railway first opened its doors to city dwellers. Since then, the city has grown enormously to be the most populous urban area in the EU, with over 2.1 billion inhabitants who need reliable, green transportation.

Today, the Grand Paris Express project is aiming to not only expand the metro, but create a more integrated, efficient transport system. The scale of the project is impressive, with four new train lines, 68 new stations and 200 km of additional railway.

Innovation will be crucial to both the construction and operation of the Grand Paris Express. Custom materials have been designed specifically for the project, including a hardwearing and carbon neutral material for the station surfaces. The trains themselves will be fully automated, driven by algorithms to serve the city as efficiently as possible.

The Grand Paris Express will service two million passengers a day, and the impact on journey times will be dramatic; travelling from Orly Airport to Paris Saclay University Campus will be cut from 66 minutes to 15. Importantly, this green transport network will be form part of Paris’ strategy of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Powering incredible European innovation

Many of the incredible projects underway have been made possible by modern construction technology. Digital information-sharing is critical for coordination, especially on cross-border projects.

3D modelling is enabling architects to design and simulate new structures to find the best answers to civil engineering needs. Moreover, modern methods of construction like prefabrication are enabling complex designs to be realised in a more sustainable way than ever before.

On all of these projects, collaboration is also critical. By working across governments and borders, European infrastructure projects are continuing to push the boundaries of construction and engineering – creating a more connected Europe in the process.

Read more about the Fehmarn Belt and other ground breaking underwater tunnels

Amanda Fennell

Amanda Fennell is Director of EMEA Marketing in Autodesk Construction Solutions and Autodesk Ireland Site Lead. She has over 20 year’s marketing experience in IT, including working with some leading cloud organisations. Amanda holds an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from DCU and is based in Autodesk’s European headquarters in Dublin.