Happy Birthday Eurotunnel - 25 Years of the Channel Tunnel
2019 has been an eventful year so far for many reasons. We thought we'd take a moment to look at one of the better moments. 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of Eurotunnel Le Shuttle and the opening of the channel tunnel between Folkestone and Calais.
Original plans for a tunnel connecting Britain with mainland Europe were first envisioned by French mining engineer Albert Mathieu-Favier in 1802. Original blueprints for the structure included state of the art illumination from oil lamps and a carriageway for horse-drawn carriages. He also wanted an artificial island to be built at sea where horses could be changed for the second leg of the journey.
After his death, Aime Thome de Gamond took over Mathieu-Favier’s dream and performed geographical and hydrographical surveys to determine how feasible to project was. He presented his findings in 1856 to Napoleon III and proposed a railway tunnel be constructed between Calais to Dover. His plans were estimated to cost 170 million francs, the equivalent to almost £9bn in today’s money.
Thome de Gamond was ridiculed and his plans were abandoned. He died penniless, spending the rest of his life trying to gain popularity for his vision of a connecting tunnel between France and Britain.
Plans for a tunnel continued to be put forward by prominent British and French figures, including future Prime Minister Winston Churchill who launched a campaign for its construction in the 1920s.
In 1964, it was finally agreed that a tunnel was to be built in order to transport cargo in a more efficient way. However, plans were abandoned in 1973 when the British government withdrew from the build due to fears of spiraling costs.
Finally, an agreement was made between Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterrand, the French President, with the plan being put into place in 1986. Tunneling began in 1988. The project cost the equivalent of £13bn with a daily outlay of over £3m in labour alone.
During the six years it took to complete the project, over 13,000 individuals were employed. At completion, the tunnel cost 80% more than expected and took six years to be fully operational.
The structure itself contains three individual tunnels –
- two for trains travelling in opposing directions
- a third smaller service tunnel that is used for maintenance and can be accessed in case of emergency
The tunnel itself lies around 50 metres below the seabed. At some points it reaches as low as 75 metres!
Covering a distance of 31.4 miles, it is currently the 13th longest tunnel in the world and has the longest undersea portion of any transportation system, spanning a huge 23.5 miles.
In total, eleven boring machines were used to dig the tunnel weighing an enormous 12,000 tonnes. More than the Eiffel tower!
One was buried beneath the Eurotunnel where it remains today, and another was sold on eBay in 2014 for £39,999.
Today, up to 400 trains a day pass through the tunnel, carrying 4,600 trucks and 54,000 tonnes of freight.
Since the introduction of the pet travel scheme in 2000, over 2 million cats, dogs and ferrets have also travelled through the tunnel.
Travelling at a speed of 186mph, a crossing to France now takes around 35 minutes and has revolutionised travel between the UK and Europe, carrying around 2 million trucks a year.
The Eurotunnel is a vital aspect of the trade industry and over ¼ of all goods transported out of Britain to central Europe travel via the rail tunnel, equating to over £184bn a year.
Happy birthday Eurotunnel!