1970s plan to build underground rail link to Adriatic Coast and Czechoslovak island revealed

One of the stranger projects dreamt up in modern Czechoslovakia has just come to light. According to a newspaper report on Tuesday, engineers in Prague created a plan to build an underground rail tunnel all the way to the Adriatic Coast – and to create an artificial island that would have belonged to Czechoslovakia.

William Shakespeare referred to the non-existent coast of Bohemia in his play The Winter’s Tale. However, three and a half centuries later, engineers in communist Czechoslovakia devised a remarkable project that would have seen the country actually acquire a coastline.

The plan originated in 1975, according to a study by a researcher at Prague’s Technical University quoted in Lidové noviny. A professor named Karel Žlábek proposed the building of a railway that would carry cars and trucks from near České Budějovice in south Bohemia to the Adriatic Coast. Three hundred and 50 of its 410 kilometres would have been underground. The line would have emerged between Trieste and the Slovenian town of Koper, with its last 12 km above ground.

As head of the underground construction department at Pragoprojekt, Jiří Svoboda is an expert on tunnels.

“The men who designed it were thinking very realistically. The idea was to put some road transport underground. At that time, the Swiss were developing the idea of underground tunnels of around 50 kilometres carrying haulage vehicles on rail carriages. What we’re talking about here is not one tunnel, but a system of tunnels.”

Under the plan, the earth dug up building those tunnels would have been used to create an artificial island off the coast of Yugoslavia under a proposed agreement with the socialist state. The island, part of Czechoslovak territory, would have featured the country’s first harbour, named Adriaport.

However, the project contained no mention of reaching an agreement with Austria on building on, or under, its territory. Furthermore, construction would have taken three decades.

“It is terribly expensive. At that time there was the Iron Curtain, and the project also wasn’t realised for political reasons. In the 1970s the idea had already been around for 25 or 30 years…It was utopian in terms of the political situation, but in terms of ‘realisability’ it wasn’t. Just look at the situation in Switzerland today.”

As Jiří Svoboda says, the idea first emerged soon after the war. In fact, reported Lidové noviny, two Czechoslovak engineers had floated the notion of a tunnel to the sea even before the Communists took over in 1948.