Channel Tunnel: Rail Link Between Britain and Europe

Entrance to the Channel Tunnel near Coquelles, France. (Photo by Billy69150 via Wikimedia Commons)
Entrance to the Channel Tunnel near Coquelles, France.
(Photo by Billy69150 via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1990, crews tunneling from England and France met under the English Channel.

Here are some things you may not have known about the Channel Tunnel.

The first proposal for a tunnel under the English Channel was made in 1802 by Albert Mathieu, a French mining engineer. He proposed horse-drawn carriages in the tunnel, lit by oil lamps and the construction of a mid-channel island for changing horses. Needless to say, the idea was a bit far-fetched for the time.

In 1881, the first legitimate effort to build a tunnel resulted in a pair of mile-long tunnels being dug on either side of the channel. The project was abandoned due to pressure from British politicians, who said the tunnel would compromise the national defense.

In the mid 1960s, Britain and France agreed to build a tunnel. Britain agreed because the defense arguments were largely irrelevant due to the dominance of aerial warfare. After starting construction in 1974, Britain’s Labour government canceled the project.

In 1979, dreams of a tunnel were again buoyed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s interest in a privately funded project. Four bids were submitted: Two were railroad tunnels, while the others were highway tunnels.

Ultimately a railroad tunnel was chosen, with shuttle trains allowing cars and trucks to cross as well.

In June 1988, tunneling began on the French side, while work on the British side started in December of the same year. At the peak of construction more than 15,000 people were employed, earning a total of more than 3 million pounds per day. Ten workers died during construction, mostly early in the project.

A two-inch pilot hole between the two tunnels was completed on October 30, 1990 with no ceremony. On December 1, workers broke through the service tunnel with a full crew of media there to witness the event.

The tunnel was officially opened on May 6, 1994, with a ceremony attended by Queen Elizabeth II, and French President Francois Mitterrand. Full service started several months later. The project was completed on time, but about 80 percent over budget, ultimately costing about 4.65 billion pounds.

About 21 million passengers travel through the tunnel each year, making the trip from London to Paris in about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Our question: What’s the speed limit for trains in the Channel Tunnel?

Today is World AIDS Day, National Day in Myanmar, and Republic Day in Central African Republic.

It’s unofficially Civil Air Patrol Day, Eat a Red Apple Day, and Wear a Dress Day.

It’s the birthday of comedian Richard Pryor, who was born in 1940; entertainer Bette Midler, who is 71; and comedian Sarah Silverman, who is 46.

This week in 1990, the top song in the U.S. was “I’m Your Baby Tonight” by Whitney Houston.

The No. 1 movie was “Home Alone,” while the novel “The Plains of Passage” by Jean M. Auel topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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