Channel Tunnel


History of The Channel Tunnel

Plans and proposals for a tunnel to stretch under the English Channel actually date back as far as the turn of the Nineteenth century. A man called Albert Matheiu, who was a French mining engineer, drafted the first proposal in 1802. He suggested the idea to Napolean III. The original concept was to have horse-drawn carriage to shuttle passengers back and forth between the two countries by oil lamplight. The proposal was during a brief peace between the English and the French. However, war soon broke out again, and plans were disbanded. However, on paper, they still existed and were frequently mulled over by Victorian engineers. Over the years, aboveground train tunnels had been successfully built, so engineers used their experience and applied it to the idea of the underground tunnel. Hydrographical and geological tests were undertaken during the 1830s, and ideas and proposals were promoted over the following years, but none of them were executed. Tests associated with ventilation, geology and defence kept on going. The rock needed to be suitable for tunnelling; the smoke from the steam trains needed proper exposure to air to prevent passengers from choking on the fumes; and both countries has concerns about the potential for the tunnel to be used in invasion tactics. It was not until 1875 that The Channel Tunnel Company Ltd finally implemented the most serious preliminary trials to date. After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, the English and French had grown to be friendly, and both finally agreed to work together on a venture to unite the two countries. After more geological experiments, it was decided that the Lower Chalk Bed of the crossing would be the best place to build. Shafts were dug above ground on each side to check the chalk. But, much to the dismay of the French, the project was disbanded in 1875 as the English government changed from Conservative to Labour, and planning came to a halt.

Over the next 100 years, planning, proposals, and implementation occurred on and off. Both sides could have used a tunnel to their advantage in both the First and the Second World Wars; during WW1, troops and supplies had to cross the Channel surreptitiously to avoid constant attack from enemy ships and planes. It was even estimated that having a tunnel at this point would have shortened the First World War by two whole years. The second major attempt was in the early 1970s, when once again, both French and English governments agreed to start work. However, the British prime minister at the time, Harold Wilson, abandoned the project due to the dramatic increases in oil prices and how they had affected the economy. However, when the Conservatives came back into power in 1979, the project was once again on the table. Although the government decided it would have nothing to do with the funding of the project, Margaret Thatcher went on record as saying she had no reservations in the project being independently subsidised. In 1985, four submissions were proposed:

  • One rail proposal from the original designs from The Channel Tunnel Company
  • Eurobridge, a suspension bridge with roadways and an enclosed tube
  • Another Eurobridge, a tunnel between man-made islands
  • And a Channel Expressway, consisting of large tubes with many roads, and towers for ventilation.

It was The Channel Tunnel Company that won the votes.

Channel Tunnel Operators

Eurostar | Eurotunnel