Oldest Tunnels in the World

Oldest Tunnels in the World

Tunnels have played a pivotal role in human history, enabling transportation, trade, and connectivity across vast distances. This article explores very notable top 10 oldest tunnels worldwide, showcasing the pioneering engineering techniques and remarkable achievements of their time. 

From early underground passageways to transformative subterranean railway systems, these tunnels have shaped the world we live in today.

11. Mount Cenis Tunnel

Country: France-Italy
Year built: 1857-1871
Length: 13.7 km

Mount Cenis TunnelPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The Mount Cenis Tunnel, completed in 1871, is a groundbreaking Alpine tunnel connecting Modane, France, to Bardonècchia, Italy. The Fréjus Pass boasts a remarkable tunnel that spans 13.7 km (8.5 miles) underground. What makes it truly impressive is that it was the first tunnel of its kind, where workers dug from both ends without needing additional shafts in between.

Engineer Germain Sommeiller introduced innovative techniques such as rail-mounted drill carriages, dynamite for rock blasting, and advanced ventilation systems. The Mont Cenis Tunnel is a remarkable engineering achievement and a landmark in tunnel construction.

Did You Know? 

The Mount Cenis Tunnel was built in 1871 and became an engineering marvel. It was the first long rock tunnel to be dug from both ends without any extra shafts in between.

10. Hoosac Tunnel

Country: United States
Year built: 1851-1875
Length: 8.6 km (5.3 mi)

Hoosac TunnelPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The Hoosac Tunnel is an active railroad tunnel in western Massachusetts, stretching 4.75 miles (7.64 km) through the Hoosac Range. Built from 1851 to 1875, this tunnel held the title of the world’s second-longest at that time and continued to be the longest operational transportation tunnel east of the Rocky Mountains.

The tunnel received recognition as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark from the American Society of Civil Engineers and derives its name from the Algonquian word meaning “place of stones.”

Did You Know? 

The Hoosac Tunnel, completed in 1875, is not only the longest active transportation tunnel east of the Rocky Mountains but also earned the nickname “The Bloody Pit” due to the numerous challenges and legends associated with its construction.

9. Thames Tunnel

Country: London, England
Year built: 1843
Length: 1,300 feet (396 meters)

Thames TunnelPhoto Source: Londonist

The Thames Tunnel, constructed between 1825 and 1843 by Marc Brunel and his son Isambard, is the world’s first successful tunnel built beneath a navigable river, connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping in London. Initially intended for carriages, the tunnel underwent a transformation to become a railway tunnel, serving as an integral part of the present-day London Overground network.

Did You Know? 

The Thames Tunnel, completed in 1843, was not only the world’s first tunnel successfully constructed beneath a navigable river but also became a popular tourist attraction in London.

8. Prince of Wales Tunnel, Shildon

Country: Shildon, England
Year built: 1842
Length: 1.1 km (0.68 mi)

Prince of Wales Tunnel, ShildonPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The Shildon Tunnel, completed in 1842, is the world’s oldest working railway tunnel located beneath an urban settlement, serving as a crucial connection between New Shildon and Crook via Bishop Auckland and the Dene Valley. Constructed to access local coal reserves, the tunnel was a remarkable engineering feat, stretching 1,225 yards and featuring stone sides and a brickwork arch. 

The completion of the tunnel was marked with a grand ceremony, including a procession, music, and the christening of the tunnel as “The Prince of Wales” in honor of the future King Edward 7th. The tunnel remains a historic landmark and an important part of Shildon’s heritage.

Did You Know? 

The Thames Tunnel was the first successful tunnel to be constructed beneath a navigable river, serving as an innovative engineering achievement in its time.

7. Box Tunnel

Country: England
Year built: 1841
Length: 2.9 km (1.8 mi)

Box TunnelPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The Box Tunnel in western England, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is a notable railway tunnel for the Great Western Railway. Stretching across nearly 2 miles, this impressive structure was built during the years 1836 to 1841. 

The tunnel features a straight alignment and descends on a 1 in 100 gradients. An interesting legend surrounding the tunnel suggests that Brunel deliberately aligned it so that the rising sun could be seen through it on his birthday, April 9th, each year.

Did You Know? 

The Thames Tunnel, apart from being the world’s first tunnel constructed successfully under a navigable river, also served as an unconventional venue for various events, including banquets, concerts, and even a circus.

6. Lime Street Railway Station Tunnel

Country: Liverpool, England
Year built: 1832
Length: 1.811 km (1.125 mi)

Lime Street Railway Station TunnelPhoto Source: hows

Bored under Liverpool, the Lime Street Railway Station Tunnel spanned 1.811 km (1.125 mi) and served as a vital passageway for transporting construction materials during the station’s development. Remnants of the original tunnel can still be found near Edge Hill station and Lime Street, constituting the oldest operational rail tunnels beneath the streets.

Did You Know? 

The Lime Street Railway Station Tunnel was converted to a deep cutting in the 1880s but retained its historical significance.

5. Crown Street Station Tunnel

Country: Liverpool, England
Year built: 1829
Length: 266 m (873 ft)

Crown Street Station TunnelPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The Crown Street Station Tunnel, engineered by George Stephenson, played a historic role as the world’s inaugural intercity passenger railway terminus station. Extending 266 m (873 ft), it connected Edge Hill to Crown Street in Liverpool.

Did You Know? 

Although the station was abandoned in 1836, the Crown Street Station Tunnel remains a testament to early underground railway architecture.

4. Bourne’s Tunnel

Country: Rainhill, England
Year built: 1828-1829
Length: 0.0321 km (105 ft)

Bourne's TunnelPhoto Source: Wikipedia

Situated near Liverpool, Bourne’s Tunnel holds the distinction of being the world’s pioneering tunnel built underneath a railway line. Spanning 0.0321 km (105 ft), it facilitated the transportation of materials for the construction of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway.

Did You Know? 

Bourne’s Tunnel marked a significant milestone in tunnel engineering, setting the stage for future railway tunnels worldwide.

3. Wapping Tunnel

Country: England
Year built: 1826-1828
Length: 2,030 meters (1.26 mi)

Wapping TunnelPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The Wapping Tunnel, located in Liverpool, England, is one of the earliest railway tunnels in the world. Between 1826 and 1828, this tunnel was constructed as an integral component of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which marked a significant milestone as the first public railway to exclusively utilize steam power.

The Wapping Tunnel revolutionized transportation, allowing trains to pass beneath the bustling streets of Liverpool and marking a significant milestone in the development of railway infrastructure.

Did You Know? 

The Wapping Tunnel in England showcased the advancements of the Industrial Revolution and featured the first successful use of a tunneling shield, a groundbreaking engineering technique.

2. Halsnøy Tunnel

Country: Norway
Year built: 1803-1805
Length: 4,120 meters (13,520 feet)

Halsnøy TunnelPhoto Source: Wikipedia

The Halsnøy Tunnel, located in Norway, is one of the earliest recorded tunnels in the country. Constructed between 1803 and 1805, this tunnel was built to provide a passageway through a mountainous region, enhancing transportation and connectivity in the area. 

The Halsnøy Tunnel stands as a remarkable example of early tunnel engineering and its role in overcoming geographical obstacles.

Did You Know? 

The Halsnøy Tunnel in Norway revealed ancient burial mounds from the Iron Age during its construction, providing a glimpse into the region’s rich history.

1. Grand Canal Tunnel

Country: Ireland
Year built: 1802-1804
Length: 450 meters (1,476 feet)

Grand Canal TunnelPhoto Source: Waterways Ireland

The Grand Canal Tunnel, situated in Ireland, was constructed between 1802 and 1804 as part of the ambitious project to connect Dublin and the River Shannon through an extensive canal network. 

The tunnel under Phoenix Park in Dublin played a vital role in facilitating the movement of goods and resources throughout the country, contributing to trade expansion and economic development.

Did You Know? 

The Grand Canal Tunnel in Ireland, constructed between 1802 and 1804, was the first canal tunnel to be built in Ireland and played a crucial role in connecting the eastern and western parts of the country’s canal system.


These ten oldest tunnels in the world represent remarkable achievements in engineering and innovation, showcasing the ingenuity and determination of those who constructed them. From enabling railway networks to facilitating trade and connectivity, these tunnels have shaped the world we inhabit today. 

As we appreciate their historical significance, we continue to benefit from their lasting impact on global transportation infrastructure.

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