But technology has improved to such an extent that much more ambitious projects are possible. Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland – land railway tunnel beneath Alps connecting Uri and Ticino, opens 2016 – 35.5 miles 2.Seikan Tunnel, Japan – undersea railway tunnel connecting islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, opened 1988 – 33.5 miles 3.

Channel Tunnel, UK/France – undersea railway tunnel connecting Folkestone and Coquelles, opened 1994 – 31.4 miles 4.

Lötschberg Base Tunnel, Switzerland – land railway tunnel beneath Alps connecting Berne and Valais, opened 2007 – 21.5 miles 5.

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Experts warned that excavation work through an active fault needs special attention.

"The government is being cautious about the project," said a leading researcher on the tunnel at East Shandong University, who asked not to be named.

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Ms Harbourne said potential candidates applied and filled out a short online questionnaire about their age, gender, sexual orientation, the last film or movie they watched and how they would spend a day off.