New Turkish Tunnel Links Europe and Asia

For the first time, Europe and Asia will be officially connected by a massive underwater railway tunnel that runs through Turkey, CNN is reporting.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta and other transport and trade ministers gathered to inaugurate the giant rail system on the country's republic day.

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The Marmaray link, named by combining the Sea of Marmara with "ray" (Turkish for "rail"), is a part of $4.5 billion, nearly 50-mile mega-project launched by the government in 2004. The 8.5-mile tunnel—reportedly the deepest of its kind—passes under the Bosphorus Strait, one of the busiest shipping arteries in the world.

The rail system, built by a Turkish-Japanese consortium, will be able to transport 1.5 million people each day, connecting the two continents in about four minutes. The article notes that Istanbul, with a population of nearly 15 million, has terrible traffic, with 2 million crossing the continents daily. Even more impressive, the BBC suggests that the tunnel will someday make it possible to travel from London to Beijing via Istanbul by train.

But some people are less than happy about the opening: The Guardian noted that Istanbul is above a seismic hotspot, and that the area is likely to see an earthquake in coming years. Addressing those concerns, the country's transport minister, Binali Yildirim, said that the Marmaray tunnel was "the safest place in Istanbul" and that the structure would withstand up to 9-magnitude quakes. Mayor Kadir Topbas said all test drives had been completed successfully and "all possibilities have been taken into consideration in all seriousness."

Turkey will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary, and the Prime Minister is looking to boost Turkey's profile and economic impact on the global stage. With effort and initiatives like the Marmaray link, CNN reports, Erdogan believes that the country can become one of the world's top 10 economies.