Large modern tunnels

Published on 25 February 2008
The Lioran tunnel (left: during construction)
The Lioran tunnel (left: during construction)
(illustrations : Georges Reverdy)
(Photo : Georges Reverdy)

The oldest large road tunnel in France is the Lioran tunnel in the département of Cantal (Massif Central). Construction commenced in 1839 and was finished in 1847. It was built in the traditional way - manually and with explosive - by digging small bore holes to begin with which where then enlarged. It is 1414 metres in length.

France’s oldest railway tunnel is the Terre noire tunnel on the line between Saint Etienne and Lyon. It is 1500 metres long and was built between 1827 and 1832.

However, two large tunnels dominate the history of tunnel construction: Wapping tunnel (1824-1842) and Fréjus railway tunnel (1857-1871).

After 1871 other large Alpine railway tunnels were built, for example the Saint-Gotthard tunnel (15km) and the Simplon tunnel (19.5km), but it was Fréjus that made them possible.

It is important to mention the water tunnels used to carry water at very high pressure from reservoirs high in the mountains to hydroelectric power-stations in the bottom of the valley. The first of these in the world is at Chedde, in the Département of Haute Savoie (in the French Alps), constructed in 1896. It is 1800 metres long with a diameter of 3 metres.

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