- 1802: Albert Mathieu put forward a cross-Channel tunnel proposal.
- 1875: The Channel Tunnel Company Ltd began preliminary trials
- 1882: The Abbot's Cliff heading had reached 897 yards (820 m) and that at Shakespeare Cliff was 2,040 yards (1,870 m) in length
- January 1975: A UK–France government-backed scheme, that started in 1974, was cancelled
- February 1986:The Treaty of Canterbury was signed, allowing the project to proceed
- June 1988: First tunnelling commenced in France
- December 1988: UK TBM commenced operation
- December 1990: Service tunnel broke through under the Channel
- May 1994: Tunnel formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterrand
- Mid-1994: Freight and passenger trains commenced operation
- November 1996: Fire in a lorry shuttle severely damaged the tunnel
- November 2007: High Speed 1, linking London to the tunnel, opened
- September 2008: Another fire in a lorry shuttle severely damaged the tunnel
- December 2009: Eurostar trains stranded in the tunnel due to melting snow affecting the trains' electrical hardware
- November 2011: First commercial freight service run on High Speed 1
In 1802, Albert Mathieu-Favier, a French mining engineer, put forward a proposal to tunnel under the English Channel, with illumination from oil lamps, horse-drawn coaches, and an artificial island positioned mid-Channel for changing horses. Mathieu-Favier's design envisaged a bored two-level tunnel with the top tunnel used for transport and the bottom one for groundwater flows.
In 1839, Aimé Thomé de Gamond, a Frenchman, performed the first geological and hydrographical surveys on the Channel, between Calais and Dover. Thomé de Gamond explored several schemes and, in 1856, he presented a proposal to Napoleon III for a mined railway tunnel from Cap Gris-Nez to Eastwater Point with a port/airshaft on the Varne sandbank at a cost of 170 million francs, or less than £7 million.
Thomé de Gamond's plan of 1856 for a cross-Channel link, with a port/airshaft on the Varne sandbank
In 1865, a deputation led by George Ward Hunt proposed the idea of a tunnel to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day, William Ewart Gladstone.
Around 1866, William Low and Sir John Hawkshaw promoted ideas, but apart from preliminary geological studies none were implemented. An official Anglo-French protocol was established in 1876 for a cross-Channel railway tunnel. In 1881, the British railway entrepreneur Sir Edward Watkin and Alexandre Lavalley, a French Suez Canal contractor, were in the Anglo-French Submarine Railway Company that conducted exploratory work on both sides of the Channel. On the English side a 2.13-metre (7 ft) diameter Beaumont-English boring machine dug a 1,893-metre (6,211 ft) pilot tunnel from Shakespeare Cliff. On the French side, a similar machine dug 1,669 m (5,476 ft) from Sangatte. The project was abandoned in May 1882, owing to British political and press campaigns asserting that a tunnel would compromise Britain's national defences. These early works were encountered more than a century later during the TML project.
A 1907 film, Tunnelling the English Channel by pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès, depicts King Edward VII and President Armand Fallières dreaming of building a tunnel under the English Channel.
In 1919, during the Paris Peace Conference, the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, repeatedly brought up the idea of a Channel tunnel as a way of reassuring France about British willingness to defend against another German attack. The French did not take the idea seriously, and nothing came of Lloyd George's proposal.
In the 1920s Winston Churchill was an advocate for the Channel Tunnel, using that exact nomenclature in an essay entitled "Should Strategists Veto The Tunnel?" The essay was published on 27 July 1924 in the Weekly Dispatch, and argued vehemently against those that believed the tunnel could be used by a Continental enemy in an invasion of Britain. Churchill extolled his enthusiasm for the project again in an article for the Daily Mail on 12 February 1936, "Why Not A Channel Tunnel?"
There was another proposal in 1929, but nothing came of this discussion and the idea was shelved. Proponents estimated construction to be about US$150 million. The engineers had addressed the concerns of both nations' military leaders by designing two sumps—one near the coast of each country—that could be flooded at will to block the tunnel. This design feature did not override the concerns of both nations' military leaders, and other concerns about hordes of undesirable tourists who would disrupt English habits of living. Military fears continued during the Second World War. After the fall of France, as Britain prepared for an expected German invasion, a Royal Navy officer in the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development calculated that Hitler could use slave labour to build two Channel tunnels in 18 months. The estimate caused rumours that Germany had already begun digging.
A British film from Gaumont Studios, The Tunnel (also called TransAtlantic Tunnel), was released in 1935 as a futuristic science fiction project concerning the creation of a transatlantic tunnel. It referred briefly to its protagonist, a Mr. McAllan, as having completed a British Channel tunnel successfully in 1940, five years into the future of the film's release.
By 1955, defence arguments had become less relevant due to the dominance of air power, and both the British and French governments supported technical and geological surveys. In 1958 the 1881 workings were cleared in preparation for a £100,000 geological survey by the Channel Tunnel Study Group. 30% of the funding came from the Channel Tunnel Co Ltd, the largest shareholder of which was the British Transport Commission, as successor to the South Eastern Railway. A detailed geological survey was carried out in 1964–65.
Although the two countries agreed to build a tunnel in 1964, the phase 1 initial studies and signing of a second agreement to cover phase 2 took until 1973. Construction work of this government-funded project to create two tunnels designed to accommodate car shuttle wagons on either side of a service tunnel started on both sides of the Channel in 1974.
On 20 January 1975, to the dismay of their French partners, the now-governing Labour Party in Britain cancelled the project due to uncertainty about membership, doubling cost estimates and the general economic crisis at the time. By this time the British tunnel boring machine was ready and the Ministry of Transport was able to do a 300 m (980 ft) experimental drive. This short tunnel was reused as the starting and access point for tunnelling operations from the British side. The cancellation costs were estimated to be £17 million. On the French side, a tunnel boring machine had been installed underground in a stub tunnel. It lay “moth-balled” for 14 years until 1998, when it was sold, dismantled, refurbished and shipped to Turkey where it was used to drive the Moda tunnel for the Istanbul Sewerage Scheme.
Opposition to the tunnel over the decades reflected the high value the British placed on their insularity, and their preference for imperial links that they controlled directly. Only after the British Empire collapsed in the 1950s, and air travel replaced sea travel, could they appreciate the desirability of closer ties to the continent. With opposition fading, the government could more carefully consider the long-term economic and strategic value, and the new sense of a European identity. The British government's attitude toward a tunnel changed from hostility in 1948 to acceptance and promotion in 1964. This change reflected not only a more favourable view of being part of European unity, but also the calculation that the tunnel would provide economic advantages, especially if Britain ever joined the European Economic Community. By the 1960s, British attitudes toward the tunnel also reflected a realistic reappraisal of the country's international status: after Suez everyone realized the islands were no longer a super-power. Britain's prestige and security now seemed safest when tied closely to the continent.
Initiation of project
In 1979, the "Mouse-hole Project" was suggested when the Conservatives came to power in Britain. The concept was a single-track rail tunnel with a service tunnel, but without shuttle terminals. The British government took no interest in funding the project, but Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister, said she had no objection to a privately funded project. In 1981 Thatcher and François Mitterrand, the French president, agreed to establish a working group to evaluate a privately funded project. In June 1982 the Franco-British study group favoured a twin tunnel to accommodate conventional trains and a vehicle shuttle service. In April 1985 promoters were invited to submit scheme proposals. Four submissions were shortlisted:
- Channel Tunnel, a rail proposal based on the 1975 scheme presented by Channel Tunnel Group/France–Manche (CTG/F–M).
- Eurobridge, a 4.5 km (2.8 mi) span suspension bridge with a roadway in an enclosed tube.
- Euroroute, a 21 km (13 mi) tunnel between artificial islands approached by bridges.
- Channel Expressway, a large diameter road tunnels with mid-channel ventilation towers.
The cross-Channel ferry industry protested under the name "Flexilink". In 1975 there was no campaign protesting against a fixed link, with one of the largest ferry operators (Sealink) being state-owned. Flexilink continued rousing opposition throughout 1986 and 1987. Public opinion strongly favoured a drive-through tunnel, but ventilation issues, concerns about accident management, and fear of driver mesmerisation led to the only shortlisted rail submission, CTG/F-M, being awarded the project in January 1986. Among reasons given for the selection was that it caused least disruption to shipping in the Channel, least environmental disruption, was the best protected against terrorism, and was the most likely to attract sufficient private finance.
A block diagram describing the organisation structure used on the project. Eurotunnel is the central organisation for construction and operation (via a concession) of the tunnel
The British Channel Tunnel Group consisted of two banks and five construction companies, while their French counterparts, France–Manche, consisted of three banks and five construction companies. The role of the banks was to advise on financing and secure loan commitments. On 2 July 1985, the groups formed Channel Tunnel Group/France–Manche (CTG/F–M). Their submission to the British and French governments was drawn from the 1975 project, including 11 volumes and a substantial environmental impact statement.
The design and construction was done by the ten construction companies in the CTG/F-M group. The French terminal and boring from Sangatte was undertaken by the five French construction companies in the joint venture group GIE Transmanche Construction. The English Terminal and boring from Shakespeare Cliff was undertaken by the five British construction companies in the Translink Joint Venture. The two partnerships were linked by TransManche Link (TML), a bi-national project organisation. The Maître d'Oeuvre was a supervisory engineering body employed by Eurotunnel under the terms of the concession that monitored project activity and reported back to the governments and banks.
In France, with its long tradition of infrastructure investment, the project garnered widespread approval. In April the French National Assembly gave unanimous support and, in June 1987, after a public inquiry, the Senate gave unanimous support. In Britain, select committees examined the proposal, making history by holding hearings away from Westminster, in Kent. In February 1987, the third reading of the Channel Tunnel Bill took place in the House of Commons, and was carried by 94 votes to 22. The Channel Tunnel Act gained Royal assent and passed into law in July. Parliamentary support for the project came partly from provincial members of Parliament on the basis of promises of regional Eurostar through train services that never materialised; the promises were repeated in 1996 when the contract for construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was awarded.
The tunnel is a build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) project with a concession. TML would design and build the tunnel, but financing was through a separate legal entity, Eurotunnel. Eurotunnel absorbed CTG/F-M and signed a construction contract with TML, but the British and French governments controlled final engineering and safety decisions, now in the hands of the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority. The British and French governments gave Eurotunnel a 55-year operating concession (from 1987; extended by 10 years to 65 years in 1993) to repay loans and pay dividends. A Railway Usage Agreement was signed between Eurotunnel, British Rail and SNCF guaranteeing future revenue in exchange for the railways obtaining half of the tunnel's capacity.
Private funding for such a complex infrastructure project was of unprecedented scale. An initial equity of £45 million was raised by CTG/F-M, increased by £206 million private institutional placement, £770 million was raised in a public share offer that included press and television advertisements, a syndicated bank loan and letter of credit arranged £5 billion. Privately financed, the total investment costs at 1985 prices were £2.6 billion. At the 1994 completion actual costs were, in 1985 prices, £4.65 billion: an 80% cost overrun. The cost overrun was partly due to enhanced safety, security, and environmental demands. Financing costs were 140% higher than forecast.
Working from both the English side and the French side of the Channel, eleven tunnel boring machines or TBMs cut through chalk marl to construct two rail tunnels and a service tunnel. The vehicle shuttle terminals are at Cheriton (part of Folkestone) and Coquelles, and are connected to the English M20 and French A16 motorways respectively.
Tunnelling commenced in 1988, and the tunnel began operating in 1994. In 1985 prices, the total construction cost was £4.65 billion (equivalent to £13 billion in 2015), an 80% cost overrun. At the peak of construction 15,000 people were employed with daily expenditure over £3 million. Ten workers, eight of them British, were killed during construction between 1987 and 1993, most in the first few months of boring.
A two-inch (50-mm) diameter pilot hole allowed the service tunnel to break through without ceremony on 30 October 1990. On 1 December 1990, Englishman Graham Fagg and Frenchman Phillippe Cozette broke through the service tunnel with the media watching. Eurotunnel completed the tunnel on time, and it was officially opened, one year later than originally planned, by Queen Elizabeth II and the French president, François Mitterrand, in a ceremony held in Calais on 6 May 1994. The Queen travelled through the tunnel to Calais on a Eurostar train, which stopped nose to nose with the train that carried President Mitterrand from Paris. Following the ceremony President Mitterrand and the Queen travelled on Le Shuttle to a similar ceremony in Folkestone. A full public service did not start for several months. The first freight train, however, ran on 1 June 1994 and carried Rover and Mini cars being exported to Italy.
The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), now called High Speed 1, runs 69 miles (111 km) from St Pancras railway station in London to the tunnel portal at Folkestone in Kent. It cost £5.8 billion. On 16 September 2003 the prime minister, Tony Blair, opened the first section of High Speed 1, from Folkestone to north Kent. On 6 November 2007 the Queen officially opened High Speed 1 and St Pancras International station, replacing the original slower link to Waterloo International railway station. High Speed 1 trains travel at up to 300 km/h (186 mph), the journey from London to Paris taking 2 hours 15 minutes, to Brussels 1 hour 51 minutes.
In 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers elected the tunnel as one of the seven modern Wonders of the World. In 1995, the American magazine Popular Mechanics published the results.