The Channel Tunnel 25 years on

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Tunnels have been proposed under the English Channel (La Manche) for many years and there were in fact many attempts to build one. Some projects did get to construct tunnels that went partially under the channel, however the sheer scale of the task proved to be a stumbling block. It took more than a hundred and fifty years before one was even successfully built! This, the ‘Chunnel’ (or Le tunnel sous la Manche) was opened by the Queen and the President of France on 6th May 1994.

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Le Shuttle’s 25th Anniversary celebrations banner. Source: Eurotunnel (the image is no longer available on Eurotunnel’s site thus an archived version is used) – the campaign was created by Southpaw.

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The official 25th Anniversary banner from the Eurotunnel company (Getlink.) Source: Twitter

The story of the Channel Tunnel is so vast it would be no good idea to try and write about these here, it needs a book and there are some very comprehensive works on the subject. The various projects have also tied in with other schemes such as the Great Central – which was ultimately intended to be the railway to the continent, and of course High Speed One, Waterloo International and so on.

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The Channel Tunnel’s official 25th birthday cake! Source: Twitter

The construction of the tunnel itself is a vast work of literature. The signing of the agreements between the two countries, the planning, design, and construction, plus the terminals and associated road networks for the roll-on roll off services which came to be known as Le Shuttle. What we have is quite an incredible asset, employs hundreds of people and is essential to keeping Europe on the move.

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Early Napoleonic proposals for a Channel Tunnel! Source: Twitter (Note: Tweet was either locked or deleted thus an archived image has been used.)

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1867 plans for a tunnel rejected by Queen Victoria and Napoleon III. Source: Twitter

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Artist’s illustration of a 1960s shuttle train for the Chunnel. Source: Twitter

The Channel Tunnel is approved – Treaty of Canterbury 1986

On 12 February 1986 President Mitterrand and Prime Minster Thatcher singed the accord that gave both France and England the powers to plan build and operate the ‘Chunnel.’ Direct link to the Treaty (pdf) here.

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A colour photograph of Mitterrand and Thatcher exchanging the Treaty of Canterbury documents. 12 February 1986. Source: Twitter

A huge plaque was also unveiled at the ceremony on 12 February 1986. Despite searches I do not know where this plaque can be found. It might be in Canterbury Cathedral. (See note below)

**Have had to put in this update today (6th May 2019) to clarify some aspects of the Treaty of Canterbury.

The huge plaque depicted below can be found in Lille and this is the moment when both countries had principally agreed the construction of the tunnel with the appointment of Trans Manche Link (TML) to build it. This occurred on 20th January 1986.

What had happened before then was both countries had put out invites for consultation on projects to build a tunnel, this was 30th November 1984. On 2nd April 1985 the governments issued invites for companies to submit proposals on how such a massive project could be undertaken.

31st October 1985. Four proposals for building a tunnel (or tunnel/bridge) are received. One of these is from France-Manche-Channel Tunnel Group, who will in time be appointed the eventual successful bidder for the project and be known as Trans Manche Link.

On the 20th January 1986, the two governments awarded the task of building the Chunnel to Trans Manche Link. This took place in Lille and that is where the huge plaque is seen.

The Treaty of Canterbury took place later, 12th February 1986 at Canterbury Cathedral itself. This was the legal agreement upon which both countries would undertake to have the tunnel built by private enterprise, monitoring its construction, complying with regulations, international agreements etc, the concessions for operating the tunnel, and the rest of it. That wasn’t the end of it, both countries had to draw up loads more legislation before anyone could even start building a tunnel!

Following the Canterbury signing in 1986, other documents between the French and English governments had to be drawn up and ratified. The Treaty of Canterbury gave the go ahead for a tunnel – however to actually build this tunnel required further legislation – one of which was the Channel Tunnel Act of 1987.

The Railways Archive has a pdf of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. Its 167 pages long! Its jut the usual legal stuff although if one digs into it they will find the various stipulations for the high speed line to London, make provision for a new station at Ashford, and give the railways powers to build enhanced facilities at Waterloo (it doesn’t however specify a separate International Terminal so that may have been a later decision.)

Work on the tunnel began in December 1987. The tunnel was supposed to open in 1993. Considering the delays that ensued, it wasn’t too far off the original completion date and its opening in 1994 was a major achievement.

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How the reinforced segment linings for the tunnel were made. Source: Twitter

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Painting of the tunnel boring machine. Source: Twitter

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Tunnelling machine at one of the crossover caverns. Source: Twitter

The tunnellers met in the middle of the channel on 30th October 1990 – or was it 1st December 1990?

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British & French TML workers Graham Fagg & Philippe Cozette meet in the middle of the tunnel 1st December 1990. Source: Twitter

Actually it seems many reports suggested a breakthrough was envisaged for the last week of October 1990. In the event it did not occur until 1st December 1990.

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England & France shake hands in a ceremony. Source: Institution Civil Engineers

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One of the newly completed crossovers in the tunnel. Generally these are kept out of use by huge hangar type doors which only retract when the need to use one of the crossovers arises.

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The entrance to the tunnel at Cheriton in the early days. Track laying had only just begun.

The opening of the tunnel has many setbacks…

The Channel Tunnel was originally intended to be opened in May 1993, with Le Shuttle operational by October of that year, however, delays, disputes and the likes saw the opening date put back further and further. Further there was also issues with money. It was costing more. There was problems with the trains, the testing of the tunnels systems and so on.

In October 1989 Eurotunnel admitted in view of the problems there was little prospect of the tunnel being open in May 1993, so they put the date back a month. Chairman Alistair Morton said ‘We are broadly on time for June 1993.’ (Guardian 3rd October 1989.) He however put the responsibility of finishing the tunnel on time squarely on the shoulders of Trans Manche Link (the Anglo-French company building the tunnel.) The opening was eventually deferred to September 1993.

Even that new date was soon looking impossible and it became December 1993 instead. Morton held the view TML was being somewhat intransigent in regards to admitting construction difficulties and runaway costs. He described TML as a spoilt little boy… ‘The end of 1993 has remained technically possible… but is unlikely to be allowed by TML’ who are like ‘a small boy standing outside a room, who refuses to come in. But he will have to come in eventually.’ (Guardian 20th April 1993.)

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Waterloo International station in October 1992. As is obvious track had not yet been laid into the new terminus.

The official opening eventually was moved from a belated June 1993 to an even more belated 15th December 1993. By March 1993 there was doubt the December date could be achieved and it of course slipped.

Eventually it was to be January 1994, and that slipped too. In the end Morton was saying it would be much later in the year when the tunnel would be opened to the public but could give no exact date.

By March 1993 it was obvious things were quite bad as the 6th May 1994 was announced as the date which the Queen and President Mitterrand would officiate in opening the tunnel – though not the date which either the shuttle or the Eurostar services began. It was said these would begin a few weeks later. The significance of the May 1994 date is noticeable that it was a full year on from the date the tunnel should have opened!

The very first train to pass through the length of the Channel Tunnel was an early production Eurostar. The date was 20th June 1993 and the movement was simply for testing purposes. The Eurostar took several hours to negotiate the tunnel as it was being hauled by a shunter with a maximum speed of 19mph. Despite the very slow progress this train became the very first Eurostar to reach English shores.

The Channel Tunnel is officially opened – 6th May 1994

Both the Queen and President Mitterrand attended ceremonies in Calais and Folkstone, and for the purposes of this the Eurostar was used – and without a doubt the first official use of Eurostar from London to France.

6th May 1994 too was the official opening of Waterloo International. However the Le Shuttle and Eurostar services would have to wait a bit longer before they officially began public services. In the event Eurostar’s big day was expected to be sometime in July 1994. That did not happen until 14th November 1994. Le Shuttle was able to commence a rudimentary service from 19th May 1994. This was gradually enhanced as the year progressed and a substantial turn up and go service introduced for cars later in the year. Most of it was up and running by 22 December 1994 however the full range of services of turn up and go were not seen until 1995.

6th May 2019: Many updates and tweets on the anniversary, however I have chosen this one because it shows a good video of the days proceedings in 1994:

Eurostar, as great as always, have given us a good link to a video which also covers the day’s events in great detail. Love the scenes of the Queen and Mitterrand travelling back to England in the Queen’s very posh Royal car!

I may post some more pics/tweets in a later update however its on with the show 🙂

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At the official opening was this very unpopular lady whose one perhaps memorable achievement (besides the nasty policies she was famously hated for as a prime minister) was getting the Channel Tunnel built (although let’s remember she ultimately wanted it exclusively for cars and not trains!) The picture shows the then current prime minster John Major with Thatcher on the inaugural Eurostar train, seated just behind the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Source: Independent

The prime minsters of Britain and France were asked for their views on the tunnel, and both gave their opinions to the French newspaper Liberation on 5th May 1994. At the time these were John Major and Edouard Balladaur. The interviews were quite lengthy and reproduced in the Guardian 6th May 1994. What follows is both PMs’ immediate thoughts on the benefits the tunnel would bring:

John Major: It is a potent symbol of Britain’s new role in Europe. We share with France an enormous pride in the achievement and skills of those who have designed and constructed one of the greatest engineering projects of the century. The tunnel links Great Britain with the Continent for the first time in many thousands of years. It will bring us nearer still to the French people, with whom our ties have grown ever closer over the past years.

Edouard Balladur: The Channel Tunnel will bring out two countries closer in many ways, not just economically. It will help strengthen economic cohesion within the European Union. France can expect to see an increase in tourism – which is its primary source of foreign currency.

In the meantime President Mitterrand and his entourage left Gare du Nord on the first official Eurostar train from the French capital. They were on their way to meet the Queen at Calais.

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The inaugural Eurostar sets from both countries meet nose to nose at Calais for the first of the ceremonies to officially open the tunnel. Source: Twitter

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Carefully coming together nose to nose! Source: Twitter

A nice picture from Gettys showing the French president welcoming the Queen to Calais, where they performed the first of the two official ceremonies either side of the Channel to open the new tunnel.

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The ceremony to open the tunnel begins. Source: Sunday Post

One observer who was invited to the ceremony said of the tunnel ‘Its a bit like being on the tube, only without the stops and the smelly people.’ (Observer 8th May 1994)

Another said ‘Boundaries do not make a civilisation; its about shared values and shared history. The Channel Tunnel is progress. It used to take a week to get from London to Paris by stagecoach; now we can do it in three hours.’ (Observer 8th May 1994)

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The Queen and President Mitterrand return to England for the ceremonies on this side of the tunnel. Source: Twitter

In terms of services through the Channel Tunnel, the first freight trains began on 1st July 1994. Both Euroshuttle and Eurostar were meant to begin about the same time too. This report from the BBC indicates a July start for Eurostar however only the Euroshuttle services began. Eurostar was delayed to November 1994.

Getlink on their website however say the shuttle services progressively began from May 1994. More confusingly the Guardian claims it was 22nd December 1994 when the shuttle services began! Lol!

There seems to be some confusion on this. However, in terms of actual services being carried through the tunnel, the first lorries used the shuttle on 19 May and it seems this may have been something that needed to be booked in advance. The actual turn-up and go services however began on 22 December.

Channel Tunnel 25th Anniversary Picture Gallery:

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Great aerial picture of the Coquelles entrance to the tunnel and the nearby railyards. Britain can just be seen in the distance. Source: Twitter

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On the other side! The tunnel’s entrance at Cherition with the Le Shuttle yards clearly visible. Source: Twitter

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A view of our side showing the Le Shuttle and main line (at right) facing north. Yes the Chunnel goes south east however the first bit goes in a north easterly direction before turning south east. Source: Twitter (Note: The Twitter account has either been suspended or deleted thus an archived image is used here.)

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The English entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Source: Twitter

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One of the Channel Tunnel’s control rooms, known as RCC’s. The display is one of the biggest in Europe. Source: Tunnel Talk

The following short but interesting video shows a typical day in operation at the Rail Control Centre, Folkestone.

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Le Shuttle has control rooms for management of the terminals’ traffic systems either side of the tunnel. This is the Folkestone one. Source: Pinterest

This Getlink page is recommended for further reading on the tunnel’s control and management systems whilst this Eurotunnel/Le Shuttle page covers that side’s operation and management.

High speed trip through the tunnel from England to France – courtesy of Justin on Eurostar.

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Nice, also quite dramatic, picture of a classic E300 Eurostar train emerging form the French portal. Source: Twitter

In terms of Waterloo International that is no more, its now a normal railway terminus and considerably modified. Here are some retro pics of the days when it was an International Station – including one of my photos showing a most unusual visitor!

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The passenger lounge below the platforms. Source: Twitter

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Remember the fish at Waterloo International? Source: Twitter

The following picture I took shows Departmental unit 931001. This was used for route learning duties thus assume it was undertaking such duties when it was spotted at Waterloo International. It was scrapped at Immingham in February 2004.

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931001 at Waterloo International 23 March 1995.

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Just five years ago The Queen commemorated the 20th anniversary of the opening of the tunnel, although this was a month later than the actual anniversary. Source: Luxury Travel Beat (Note: The blog in question has now been marked private thus an archived image is used.)

In 2017 Groupe Eurotunnel decided to rebrand the tunnel (known colloquially as Eurotunnel) Getlink in preparation for a post-Brexit world. Guardian. However, somewhat confusingly, the Eurotunnel name is retained for the Le Shuttle operation. Anyway they (Le Shuttle) did this great poster covering the history of the Channel Tunnel:

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Eurotunnel – A wonder of the modern world. Source: Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

The Channel Tunnel anniversary continues with Eurostar’s 25th on 14th November 2019.

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