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Channel Tunnel: Happy 20th birthday

Published 08 May 2014

On 6 May 1994, Queen Elizabeth II and French President Francois Mitterand officially opened our Channel Tunnel – and France’s Tunnel Sous la Manche – in two ceremonies held in Calais and Folkestone. Time, then, to see exactly what it's achieved during those 20 subsequent years.

Time to set the scene. In 1994 the Vauxhall Omega was the brand new kid on the block, and Citroen Xantia and Ford Mondeo last year’s old news. The thrifty or sadistic fleet managers could even still buy a new Maestro (much to future Rover CEO Bernd Pischetsreider's dismay). Air conditioned cars were just filtering down to the lowly models, in car entertainment peaked at the new CD multichangers, and a 60-series tyre was still considered low profile. The carburettor had died, yet the OBD diagnostic port new future technology.

Plans for a tunnel had been formulating for nearly 200 years with several (abortive) trial tunnels dug prior to 1974 – the year the channel tunnel dig finally began. Alas, a change of UK government stopped this dig a year later, but 14 years later, a private consortium (the Channel Tunnel Group) restated the dig in 1989. And on 1 December 1990, the English bore hole met the French bore hole – success, a land-link had been established between the two countries.

Over the next three years, the service tunnel and two main tunnels were completed. These three tunnels were actually bored 40m beneath the sea bed to length of a little more than 31 miles (50km) in length. These tunnels have 706 connecting passages and two rail crossovers within.

At either end of these tunnels, the terminals connect to the M20 in Kent and the A16 autoroute in Dover, respectively. To give a sense of perspective of the enormous engineering feat, even though the process used 11 tunnel boring machines, (and construction was highly mechanised) a massive 13,000 construction staff were still required.

And today, the link is finally making money. On an average day up to 400 locomotive-hauled trains pass through the tunnel. This is made up of a combination of Eurostar passenger trains and Euro Tunnel's own 'shuttles' (which run at 100mph between the two points). On these 830 metre long shuttles, 85 per cent of motorists hold a UK passport too.

So far, 330 million people have used the tunnel, and 65 million cars have passed through it in total. All facts worth thinking about next time you travel under the English Channel.

Words: Andrew Elphick

Eurotunnel (2)

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