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Channel Tunnel
Folkestone, Kent
associated engineer
Channel Tunnel
date  1994
era  Modern  |  category  Tunnel  |  reference  TR302395
ICE reference number  HEW 477
Acknowledged as one of the seven modern wonders of the world, the Channel Tunnel runs under the English Channel, or La Manche as the French call it, from Folkstone to the French coast south west of Calais. It cost upwards of £12 billion and took more than seven years to complete. It is the largest ever privately financed engineering project.
The tunnel is the final, successful, tunnelling: the first proposal had been made in 1802 by French engineer Albert Matthieu Favrier. Horse drawn coaches were to carry the passengers underground, where the tunnel would be lit by oil-lamps. Tunnelling actually began after 1874, when Francis Brady, acting for the Channel Tunnel Company, recommended an alignment that was approved by both French and British authorities. However, the work was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war and then abandoned in 1881.
Further work was done later in 1881 when Brady (by now South Eastern Railway’s chief engineer) directed the construction on a shaft sunk at the west end of Shakespeare Cliff, from which a 7ft diameter tunnel was driven for 2025yd. A rotary tunnelling machine designed by Beaumont was used. However, the project was abandoned and not revived until the1960s, only to stop again in 1975. Work resumed in the 1980s and this time the tunnel was completed.
The Channel Tunnel is actually a pair of rail tunnels, 7.3m in diameter (designed to carry trains north and south), plus a service tunnel running between them. 15,000 workers were involved in the construction of the three 50km tunnels, which were dug simultaneously from both ends. 19km of the tunnel is undersea, at an average depth of 150ft below the seabed. The tunnels are driven through chalk marl for the most part. Large tunnel boring machines were used in the digging and the tunnel walls were later shored up with a concrete liner.
Queen Elizabeth II and then French President François Mitterand opened the tunnel at an official ceremony in 1994. Eurostar now runs a passenger train service through it and a vehicle shuttle service is also in use.
British contractors: Balfour Beatty Construction Ltd, Costain UK Ltd, Tarmac Construction Ltd, Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd, George Wimpey International Ltd
Research: CS
reference sources   CEH South

Channel Tunnel