Chunnel Opening Fulfills Centuries-Long Effort

IT will have taken more than 190 years to fulfill the dream of French engineer, Albert Mathieu-Favier, that Britain and France should be linked by a tunnel under the English Channel. Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have seen the plans, pondered the possibility of invasion, and rejected them.

The French actually began digging a tunnel toward England in 1877, but soon gave up. The British had a go from their side four years later but their enthusiasm flagged just as quickly.

It was not until 1975 that another attempt was launched, again from France. But the British, in economic crisis, pulled out. Five years later British and French leaders tried again.

Three other options were considered: artificial islands with a bridge for vehicle traffic; a road tunnel with occasional trains; and a suspension bridge carrying traffic at four levels.

The two leaders opted for a tunnel with two-way rail traffic and put the cost at $8.9 billion. The final reckoning is likely to be nearly double that estimate.

At 31 miles, the Channel Tunnel will not be the longest rail tunnel in the world. The record is held by the 32-mile Seikan tunnel linking Honshu and Hokkaido Islands in Japan.

Eurotunnel, the consortium that will operate the Channel Tunnel, is aiming at eventual journey times of 2 hours 40 minutes from London to Brussels and 3 hours from London to Paris. Air travel on the same routes takes at least 3 hours from city-center to city-center, and travelers have to change from road or rail to plane and back again. During peak-hour travel as many as 20,000 passengers will be in it at any one time.

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