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Sky trains, super bridges: 8 of the world's most spectacular infrastructure projects

By Eoghan Macguire, for CNN
June 18, 2013 -- Updated 1136 GMT (1936 HKT)
The Panama canal is being upgraded at a cost of $5.25 billion to ensure it is capable of handling the ever-increasing size of the world's biggest cargo ships. The Panama canal is being upgraded at a cost of $5.25 billion to ensure it is capable of handling the ever-increasing size of the world's biggest cargo ships.
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Panama Canal
Panama Canal
Marmaray Project
Marmaray Project
Beijing's new international airport
Beijing's new international airport
Etihad Rail
Etihad Rail
Hyderabad Metro
Hyderabad Metro
The LAPSSET Project
The LAPSSET Project
London Crossrail
London Crossrail
New International Trade Crossing
New International Trade Crossing
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The dominant economic chatter may be of austerity but ambitious transport infrastructure projects continue
  • In many emerging nations transport spending is speeding ahead while large projects also continue in the developed world
  • Massive bridges, airports, metro systems and canal's are currently all in the works

The Gateway goes behind the scenes of the world's major transport hubs, revealing the logistics that keep goods and people moving. This month, the show is in Singapore.

(CNN) -- Austerity, spending cuts and deficit reduction.

With all the talk of fiscal restraint, it's easy to assume there's little in the coffers for the sort of vast infrastructure projects we've seen over the last century.

True, the EU has reduced its transport infrastructure budget through 2020, while groups like the American Society of Engineers have stated that too little is being put aside to fund the big projects of tomorrow -- but it's not all doom and gloom.

In many emerging nations transport spending is speeding ahead at breakneck pace, while in the developed world large projects have continued despite the rumbling aftershocks of the 2008 financial crash.

Here, we take a look at some of the biggest, most important and spectacular transport infrastructure developments currently in the works around the world.

A ship passes through the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal.
A ship passes through the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal

Already an engineering wonder, the 99-year-old Panama Canal is being upgraded to cater for the ever increasing heft of the world's merchant shipping fleet. Construction was approved in 2006 and is due for completion in 2014.

See also: 7 of the world's most entertaining airports

The $5.25 billion project will add three 1,400-foot-long, 180 foot wide and 60-foot-deep locks to each end of the 51-mile aquatic passageway that links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. This enhanced capability will enable the canal to cater for more of the giant container vessels that are increasingly favored by the world's largest shipping companies.

A few hundred miles to the north meanwhile, early plans are afoot to build a new canal in Nicaragua with even greater capacity at a cost of $40 billion.

Marmaray Project

A city straddling two continents, Istanbul has long been a strategic gateway between Europe and Asia.

Now, construction of one of the world's deepest submerged transport tunnels is pulling east and west even closer together. The Marmaray Project is a 76-kilometer (47.2-mile) subterranean railway development that will ferry travelers under a 1.4-km (0.9-mile) section of the Bosphorus Strait and connect busy railway lines on either side of the historic waterway.

The project began in 2004 and is due to be completed towards the end of 2013, later than originally planned due to delays caused by the archaeological sensitivity of the surrounding area.

An artist\'s illustration of Beijing\'s new international airport.
An artist's illustration of Beijing's new international airport.

Beijing's new international airport

Playing host to eight runways and with the capabilities to cater for 130 million passengers every year, Beijing's new international airport will be among the world's largest and busiest when it is slated to come online in 2017 (although Istanbul's recently announced third airport will trump it with a 150 million capacity when it opens in 2018).

See also: Could drones replace roads?

Air travel has expanded rapidly in China in recent years in line with the country's booming economy. In 2011, the Chinese government announced plans to increase the total number of airports in the country from 175 to 230 by 2015 to cope with demand.

Beijing alone is set to handle between 450 and 500 million passengers every year by then, meaning the city's existing airports need assistance to cope with the expected rise in demand. Construction of the new airport, which will be situated in the city's Daxing district, was confirmed in January 2013 and is due to begin in early 2014, according to local media.

Etihad Rail Network

In a land brimming with ostentatious development projects, the nitty-gritty of rail infrastructure pales when compared to the world's tallest building or man-made luxury islands -- but it shouldn't.

The 1,200 kilometer Etihad Rail network will extend across the desert hinterland of the United Arab Emirates, from the border of Saudi Arabia in the west to the frontiers of Oman in the east.

Costing $11 billion and taking in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and all of the Northern Emirates, developers hope the freight and passenger project will eventually join up with an international rail network covering Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar.

An artists impression of Hyderabads new Metro system.
An artists impression of Hyderabads new Metro system.

Hyderabad Metro

Towering high above chaotic din of inner-city traffic, the Hyderabad Metro system is expected to provide daily transport for up to 1.7 million of the southern Indian city's residents by 2017, according to the regional government.

The $2.1 billion project will provide 72 kilometers of elevated track with stations every one kilometer. Developers say the system will improve journey times, reduce traffic on roads and provide an eco-friendly mass transport alternative to polluting car or bus journeys.

The LAPSSET Project

In 2012 the presidents of Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan came together to launch the ambitious LAPSSET (Lamu Port--South Sudan--Ethiopia Transport Corridor) project.

The plans include an oil refinery, pipelines from South Sudan, transportation hubs for rail, road and air vehicles, plus a giant port for oil tankers. A number of tourist resort cities are also expected along the development's path.

See also: The tiny nation with a big economic punch

Costs are set to come in at around $25 billion although concerns remain over the impact on the local environment. Lamu Port is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and the surrounding area is home to protected marine reserves and forests.

The Kenyan government has set aside $23 million for the Lamu section of the project while Reuters reported that a Chinese company had won the first tender to build three berths at the port in April this year.

London\'s Crossrail project
London's Crossrail project

London Crossrail

What the Hyderabad Metro does 20 meters above ground, London's Crossrail project will seek to do beneath the British capital's bustling streets and out into its sprawling suburbs.

A $23 billion development, the 73-mile rail project will connect London from East to West, improving access to Heathrow Airport, central London as well as city's surrounding towns and suburbs.

Work began in 2009 and the first trains could be in operation as early as 2018. More than 8,000 people are involved in the project working across 40 separate construction sites.

NITC Bridge

Although not the most expensive infrastructure project in the pipeline, the $950 million New International Trade Crossing bridge -- which will connect Windsor, Ontario in Canada and Detroit, Michigan in the U.S. -- could well be one of the most impactful as far as international trade is concerned.

The NITC's stated aims are to increase commerce capacity, reduce traffic bottlenecks and improve opportunities for businesses in both countries by providing a state-of-the-art, publicly operated border crossing.

See also: Is Danube Romania's 'blue motorway?'

Roughly 25% of all merchandise trade between Canada and the United States -- one of the world's largest bi-lateral trade partnerships -- currently cross over the Detroit River via the nearby (privately run) Ambassador Bridge, according to the bridge operator's website.

Barack Obama ordered a presidential decree to construct the NITC in March this year, however the owners of the Ambassador Bridge have logged legal challenges against the project.

They have also announced plans to expand the existing capacity of their own facility which originally opened in 1929.

What exciting projects did we miss on our list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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