United Kingdom/France

The Chunnel





The idea of building a tunnel under the English Channel was around for a long time; even in 1802 a plan was suggested to Napoleon Bonaparte.  However, it was not until the late 20th century that technology advanced to the point where it became feasible, and in 1986 the U.K. and France signed a treaty authorizing the construction of an undersea tunnel linking Folkestone in southern England and Calais in northern France.


Work began in 1988 and over the next four years 13,000 workers dug 95 miles of tunnel at an average depth of 45 meters below sea level.  Construction took six years and cost $21 billion, the most expensive construction project in the world up to that point.  The 50 km tunnel opened on May 6, 1994, with both Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and France’s President Mitterand on site in Calais for the inaugural run.  It is used by high-speed passenger trains, trains that carry cars and other vehicles, and cargo trains.


The Channel Tunnel or Euro Tunnel, also known as the Chunnel, consists of three tubes.  Two are full-sized and accommodate rail traffic, one going from the U.K. to France and the other from France to the U.K.  The third is a smaller service tunnel that acts as an emergency escape route and allows people and equipment to move through the tunnel without blocking the trains.  There are also several “cross-over” passages that allow trains to switch from one track to another and to provide the operators with flexibility should a section of the rail tunnels have to be shut down.  All trains that go through the tunnels are electric powered, eliminating the problem of having fumes underground.  There are several diesel locomotives available for emergency work should the power fail.  The Chunnel remains an engineering marvel, and in 1996 was selected by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.




Comments are closed.