Norway Plans Shipping Tunnel

In Global Perspectives, Maps101 by

A ship passes through the proposed Stad Ship Tunnel in this artist's rendering. Although the construction is expensive and difficult, Norwegian authorities believes the tunnel will benefit that country's shipping industry.

A ship passes through the proposed Stad Ship Tunnel in this artist’s rendering. Although construction will be expensive, time-consuming, and difficult, Norwegian authorities say the tunnel will benefit their country’s shipping and tourism industries.

Why Build a Tunnel?

Ships are important to Norway. This is because the country has one of the world’s longest coastlines. Many of these ships carry cargo, while others carry tourists who hope to see the country’s famous coastal scenery. Shipping is so vital to Norway’s economy that Norwegian authorities hope to make water travel safer with an unusual solution: a tunnel through a mountain large enough for ships to pass through. Because the intended route must pass through thousand-foot-tall mountains, it is not possible to build a canal there. When complete, the Stad Ship Tunnel will be the world’s largest of its kind.

One of Norway's biggest tourist attractions are its scenic fjords, such this one located at the village of Fjærland, about 100 miles from the proposed site of the Stad Ship Tunnel.

One of Norway’s biggest tourist attractions is its scenic fjords, such this one located at the village of Fjærland, about 100 miles from the proposed site of the Stad Ship Tunnel.

A Long Coastline

Norway is a country in northern Europe that is located on the western portion of the Scandinavian PeninsulaAbout 5.2 million people live there. It is one of the world’s richest countries, ranking 12th in the world for individual per capita income.

Norway’s coastline is situated along the North Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea. It stretches for about 63,000 miles. It is especially long because cartographers, people who make maps, include the entire coastlines created by Norway’s diverse geographic features. For example, Norway is famous for fjords. These are long and narrow inlets of the sea bordered by cliffs and steep slopes. There are also thousands of islands and bays. These add to the coastline’s length. It is some of these features that attract tourists. Since many of these scenic attractions are found along the coast, the best way to view them is from the water, not in a car or a bus.


Historically, one section of Norway’s coast has always posed dangers to sea vessels. Whenever ships want to travel around the Stadlandet Peninsula, referred to as the Stad, they cannot travel close to the coast. Instead, they must move out into open ocean where winds and waves makes the sailing especially dangerous. Norway’s highest wind speeds are frequently recorded around that area. Weather conditions can delay ships traveling through there. Since World War II, there have been 46 accidents and 33 deaths in the waters around the peninsula.

Tunnel Plans

The Norwegian government is currently studying how best to complete the tunnel. Unfortunately, construction will require removing tons of rock and will take years to complete. Current estimates set the price at a hefty 2.7 Norwegian krone, or $271 million. The Norwegian government hopes to finish its study by the end of 2017.

Nordfjord Vekst, the organization behind the tunnel plans, admits that the main purpose of the tunnel is safety, not saving time. Ships will take just as long to travel through the Stad tunnel as they currently do to travel around the peninsula. However, safety is especially important for attracting tourists. The Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten alone attracts 1.5 percent of the world’s cruise market. The tunnel will aid tourism by allowing faster ferry services to run between different cities, making it easier for tourists to travel within Norway. Authorities estimate that about 19 ships a day will use the tunnel, although it could handle traffic of up to 100 ships per day.

Norway is located on the western edge of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The Stad Ship Tunnel will be located about 70 miles along the coast southwest of the city of Ålesund.

Norway is located on the western edge of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The Stad Ship Tunnel will be located along the coast about 70 miles southwest of the city of Ålesund.

Norway is not new to large tunnels. In 2000, the country opened the Laerdal Tunnel, the world’s longest highway tunnel. The tunnel stretches for over 15 miles on European Route E16. It cost over one billion Norwegian krone, or $113 million.

Building the Tunnel

The Stad Ship Tunnel will be 1.7 kilometers long, or a little over one mile. The proposed location is through the municipality of Selje. The tunnel is specifically designed to allow Hurtigruten cruise ships to pass through. It will be 37 meters (121 feet) high and 26.5 meters (87 feet) wide. A powerful LED system will light the way.

Tunnel construction will take place in stages over three to four years. First, workers will drill horizontally through the mountains. Then, they will use explosives to carve out the roof section of the tunnel. After the roof is secured with special bolts and anchors, concrete will be applied to the sides of the tunnel. At this stage, workers will dig the tunnel to a depth of 40 feet below sea level. Special rock dams will keep water from flooding the tunnel during construction. Any rock removed will be transported from the site by barges.

Authorities estimate that ships will take about 10 minutes to travel the tunnel. For safety, ships will be kept about 1,300 feet apart, so as many as 5 ships per hour can pass through the tunnel. Although any boat is allowed to use the tunnel, priority will be given to commercial traffic. Private craft will be allowed to pass at designated times daily.

Norwegian authorities hope to have the Stad Ship Tunnel open in early 2023.

Additional Resources

Learn more about the Stad Ship Tunnel at Smithsonian and Newsweek.

Read a detailed description how the tunnel will be built at the Norwegian Coastal Administration.

See how people design and build tunnels at PBS.

Images and Sources

Stad Ship Tunnel Illustration: Kystverket / Norwegian Coastal Administration.
Stad Ship Tunnel Illustration License: Creative Commons 2.0.

Fjord Photo: Aqwis.
Fjord Photo License: Creative Commons 3.0.

Norway Map: