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A TUNNEL THAT CONNECTS CONTINENTS

Europe and Asia are being brought closer together via the Bosporus. TÜV SÜD is ensuring project safety

Accompanying Dr. Valentina Monaco on an inspection tour of the Bosporus tunnel.
Video: TÜV SÜD

It connects two seas and divides a metropolis of millions: The Bosporus has been shaping the city of Istanbul for two and a half thousand years. Now a spectacular tunnel project beneath the Strait is bringing two continents closer together.

After midnight, Istanbul settles down for the night. Traffic thins out on the city’s freeways and the Bosporus Bridge, which opened in 1973. The ferries that connect the European side of the city with the Asian side stop running for the night. And the city’s public transportation services park their vehicles at the depot for a few hours, too.

When most of Istanbul’s 14 million residents go to bed, Dr. Valentina Monaco’s work is just beginning. At 12:15 AM on the dot, the 41-year-old expert from TÜV SÜD’s Rail department enters Üsküdar train station on the Asian side of the Turkish metropolis. Now that the last train on the metro line has departed and services are shutting down for the night, Monaco hops down onto the subway tracks and begins her nightly march. “My most important tools are my legs and my head,” she says. She walks along the stretch with a vigilant eye for details, looking for irregularities in the track bed, loose fasteners, deformed rails, or emergency doors that don’t close properly.

The work site around Üsküdar station is one of the most spectacular railroad projects in recent decades: Marmaray, a 1.3-kilometer-long tunnel under the Bosporus. TÜV SÜD has played a significant role in this project of the century. Commissioned by the Turkish State Railroad, Valentina Monaco and her colleagues have inspected the entire metro system of the new train tunnel beneath the Strait. Over the years, the Italian woman has relocated her workplace from Graz, Austria, to the Sea of Marmara, taken the engineering plans in hand, checked safety mechanisms – and asked critical questions time and again. She has regularly examined, the huge floodgates, which hermetically seal the tunnel if water rushes in, to ensure they close properly – as well as the evacuation plans, to make sure they work in the event of fire. To do so, Monaco – who, speaks German, English, Spanish, and Portuguese in addition to her native Italian – has learned Turkish.

The inner-city metro began traveling through the 13.3-kilometer-long tunnel (including the connecting tunnel) in October 2013. The structure will be approved for long-distance train service in 2016, linking the European part of Istanbul to Turkey’s high-speed rail network. But a great deal still needs to be done before that can happen. Therefore, Valentina Monaco will continue to descend regularly into the Bosporus tunnel, which reaches a depth of 63 meters in places, and hike along the route section by section with a flashlight, measuring equipment, and a camera for some time to come.