The Channel Tunnel, Thirty-two miles in length, it stretches from
Cheriton, Kent in England to the town of Sangatte in the Nord
Pas-de-Calais region of France. It is the second-longest rail tunnel
in the world, the longest being the Seikan Tunnel in Japan. It is
operated by Eurotunnel plc. The average depth is 45 m (150 ft)
underneath the seabed. It opened for business in late 1994, offering
two principal services: a shuttle run for vehicles, and Eurostar
passenger service linking London with Paris and Brussels.
In 2004, 7,276,675 passengers traveled through the tunnel on Eurostar
while in the same year Eurotunnel carried 2,101,323 cars, 1,281,207
trucks, and 63,467 coaches on its shuttle trains.
Rail freight carried through the Channel Tunnel increased by 8% to
1,889,175 tons in 2004.
A journey through the tunnel lasts about 20 minutes.
At completion, it was estimated that the whole project cost around £10 billion.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has declared the tunnel to be
one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
In 1984 the idea was proposed for a privately-funded link and a
request for bid submissions was given. Of the four serious submissions
received, the one most closely resembling the 1973 plan was chosen,
and announced on 20 January 1986. The Fixed Link Treaty was signed by
the two governments in Canterbury, Kent on 12 February 1986 and
ratified in 1987.
The planned route of the tunnel took it from Calais to Folkestone (a
route rather longer than the shortest possible crossing) and the
tunnel was to follow a single chalk stratum, which meant the tunnel
was deeper than the previous attempt. For much of its route the tunnel
is nearly 40 m (130 ft) under the seafloor, with the southern section
being deeper than the northern.
The winning bidder, CTG/FM, was a private consortium of 15 British and
French construction companies and banks. It quickly reformed itself as
two holding companies, Eurotunnel PLC and Eurotunnel SA, which were
given the job of raising finance, and an umbrella holding company, the
Eurotunnel Group. The company was led by two co-chairmen; Lord Pennock
on the British side and Andre Banard on the French
The tunnels are 50 kilometres long and 30 metres apart and were bored
in the rock strata under the Channel at an average depth of 45 meters
below the seabed.
The two large tunnels ( 7.6 meters diameter) each contain a single
track railway line.
The smaller service tunnel ( 4.8 meters diameter) is located between
the two rail tunnels and is equipped with a wire guidance system for
specially designed service tunnel vehicles.
All three tunnels are connected every 375 meters by a cross-passage
which gives access to the service tunnel in case of emergency. The
cross-passages are also used for ventilation and maintenance service
Every 200 meters, the two rail tunnels are linked by piston relief
ducts. These are used for the regulation of the air pressure in the
All three tunnels are lined with concrete linings.
Sangate - Construction Site In France
In 1987, construction of the Channel Tunnel began in France at
Sangatte on the Nord-Pas de Calais coastline at a location just over 3
kilometers away from the French terminal site at Coquelles..
A circular access shaft, 70 meters deep and 55 meters in diameter was
excavated and lined with concrete. A hangar -like shed was built to
shelter the shaft in the centre of the large construction site which
also contained offices and a lining segment manufacturing factory
All materials, workers and equipment were lowered down the shaft to
the working platform at 47 meters, where the tunnel boring machines
(TBM) could be assembled in dry conditions.
From this point, three machines excavated the undersea rail tunnels
and service tunnel beneath the seabed towards Kent and two boring
machines began the drive underground and inland towards the terminal
site. One of these machines was then re-assembled to excavate the
second running tunnel, thus using only 5 machines on the French side.
Gantry cranes with pulleys were used to lower the TBM sections and
subsequently the concrete lining segments.
Once tunneling began, construction trains with a variety of wagons
were used to transport the linings, the spoil and the workers. A
railway control room at the top of the shaft regulated the movements
of all the construction trains.
At the base of the shaft, a spoil treatment plant mixed the waste rock
with water before pumping it 500 meters to the disposal site at Fond
Once construction work was complete , the Sangatte shaft was
transformed into a permanent feature of the tunnel system, housing the
ventilation and cooling system installations.
The rest of the construction site has been landscaped and
rehabilitation work continues with environmental monitoring of the
Fond Pignon site.
Construction Site In Great Britain
Construction work began on the British side at a platform located at
the foot of Shakespeare Cliff. Situated between Folkestone and Dover
on the Kent coast, this had been the site of a previous tunnel attempt
The earlier tunnel workings were used as one of the two access shafts
to the underground workings, with a rack and pinion railway used to
convey equipment and materials to the marshalling area underground.
The six TBMs were each assembled in a large cavern area, over 20
metres high and equipped with overhead cranes for lifting the TBM
sections, which had first been excavated to accommodate the 8.6 metre
From this point under the platform at Shakespeare Cliff, three
undersea tunnels were bored towards France and three underground
tunnels towards the terminal site at Folkestone.
The service tunnel machine on both sides bored in advance of the two
running tunnel machines. Probes on the service tunnel machine provided
advance warning of difficult ground conditions and the data obtained
provided data on alignment and conditions for the larger tunnel
As a side note, incompatibility problems between the British and
continental railway systems made it necessary for British Rail and
SNCF to order special, Chunnel versions of the French high speed train
to operate between London, Paris, and Brussels. Continental rolling
stock is wider and higher than that of British Rail, which would have
led to problems with platforms and bridges. In addition, Britain's
electric trains run on different voltages. Consequently, the new
trains will run on three voltages, picked up two different ways, and
react to three different signaling systems. These incompatibility
problems have shelved prospects of through-trains running straight
from France to British provincial cities, and of night sleepers to
The tunnel boring machines were specially designed for excavating the
chalk marl rock which geological surveys had shown to lie beneath the
seabed along the proposed tunnel route.
The ground conditions were expected to be generally favourable in the
dry and stable chalk marl, except for the section to be bored in the
layer of upper chalk between Sangatte and the terminal site at
However, several factors combined to make this a unique challenge for the machines:
The length of the tunnel to be excavated undersea ( in excess of 20 km ).
The high rate of advance required to meet the construction programmed requirements.
The possibility of unexpected ground conditions - such as an un-surveyed borehole.
During 1991, the tunneling operation moved along smoothly. The
Northbound main tunnel was linked in May and the Southbound tunnel in
June, three months ahead of schedule. However, contractors checking
the aerodynamics of the tunnel had discovered that it would require
air-conditioning: a big surprise for the tunnel designers. Rail
tunnels in general do not require airconditioning because air can
usually circulate freely from one end of the passage to the other. Not
so in the case of the 32-mile long Chunnel. The heat that the
high-speed trains will generate as they pass through the long, narrow
tunnels is expected to cause temperatures as high as 130 degrees
Fahrenheit. As a result, Eurotunnel is now buying what has been
described as the world's most expensive air-cooling system. The $200
million system consists of pipes, running the length of the main
tunnels, through which chilled water flows from gigantic refrigeration
units located at each end of the Tunnel.
The construction in itself
Digging the tunnel took 15,000 workers over seven years, with
tunnelling operations conducted simultaneously from both ends. The
prime contractor for the construction was the Anglo-French TransManche
Link, a consortium of ten construction companies and five banks of the
two countries. Engineers used large tunnel boring machines (TBMs),
mobile excavation factories that combined drilling, material removal,
and the process of shoring up the soft and permeable tunnel walls with
a concrete liner. After the British and French TBMs met near the
middle, the French TBM was dismantled while the British one was
diverted into the rock and abandoned. Almost 4 million m³ of chalk
were excavated on the British side, much of which was dumped below
Shakespeare Cliff near Folkestone to reclaim 90 acres (360,000 m²) of
land from the sea. In all, 8 million m³ of spoil were removed, at an
average rate of 2400 tonnes/hour.
The Channel Tunnel consists of three parallel tunnels: two primary
rail tunnels, which carry trains north and south, and a smaller access
tunnel. The access tunnel, served by narrow rubber-tyred vehicles, is
connected by transverse passages to the main tunnels at regular
intervals. It allows maintenance workers access to the tunnels and
provides a safe route for escape during emergencies.
The fixed equipment installed after completion of the tunnels had to
fulfil the following functions:
1) Electricity supply for trains and auxiliary equipment
The power required for the trains and auxiliary equipment is supplied
by two principal power stations at each terminal and linked to the
national 400 kV networks ( Seeboard at Sellindge in Kent and
Electricite de France at Les Mandarins in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais )
Each network supplies half the requirement but each is capable of
supplying all the power ncessary for the whole system.
2) Electricity supply for catenaries
The catenaries supply the traction power necessary for the shuttle
trains and the through trains. The overhead power lines supply 25 kV -
one of the most powerful 25kV catenary systems in existance.
3) Control and communications systems
All the control and communications systems are carried in three
fibre-optic cables. These high capacity cables transmit digitally all
the data for rail traffic management and all the electrical and
mechanical plant in the tunnels. Speech communications are also
transmitted by cable but, in addition, there are independent radio
1) concession radio 2) track-to train radio 3)shuttle internal radio
4) Tunnel ventilation
All trains using the tunnels have electric traction so there is no
engine exhaust pollution. The service tunnel vehicles have diesel
engines designed to give very low emissions. Air is pumped into the
service tunnel from ventilation buildings at Shakespeare Cliff and
Sangatte. The service tunnel acts as the supply duct for normal
ventilation. Air handling units located above the doors of the
cross-passages every 375 metres control the flow of air from the
service tunnel to the railway tunnels.
5) Drainage systems
The drainage system of five pumping stations permits the removal of
water from the tunnels. Water from normal seepage is directed via
channels into storage tanks or sumps at the lowest points and
discharged by pipeline to the pumping stations.
Smoke detectors are installed in all the technical rooms located
within the cross-passages. Automatic extinguishing devices and remote
control sut-off systems are also installed. A dedicated water supply
line in the service tunnel is fed from storage tanks and pumping
stations at the portals. This line feeds the fire hydrants ithe cross
passages and in the running tunnels.
7) Tunnel cooling systems
The temperature in the tunnels is maintained at an acceptable level of
25°C by the circulation of refrigerated water in each section of
tunnel via a discharge and a return pipe. Refrigeration plants at the
former construction sites of Shakespeare Cliff and Sangatte provide
the chilling and circulation systems.
8) Service tunnel equipment
On each side of the service tunnel, technical rooms contain all the
necessary electrical and technical rooms for the equipment
requirements in the service tunnel.
To build the Tunnel, Eurotunnel contracted Transmanche Link (TML),
thereby generating a proper client-contractor relationship at the
heart of the project. TML is an Anglo-French joint venture between
Translink in Britain, and GIE Transmanche Construction in France,
these two groups in turn being joint ventures of the construction
companies originally brought together in CTG/FM. Britain and France
signed a draft treaty in February 1987. After the successful passage
of Channel Tunnel legislation in both countries, the treaty was
ratified in July.
A concession agreement was signed with Eurotunnel which provided for a
concessionary period of 55 years from the treaty date. At the end of
that period, Eurotunnel must hand over the fixed link in full working
order to the two states. Until that time however, Eurotunnel has the
sole right to operate the Channel Tunnel. Because both governments
support the eventual construction of a drive-through road tunnel, the
agreement stipulates that unless Eurotunnel devises a drive-through
option by 2010, the government may open such a project to competitors
after 2020. The Channel Tunnel Treaty specifically states that "The
Channel fixed link shall be financed without recourse to government
funds or to guarantees of a financial or commercial nature." In
return, Britain and France are prohibited from regulating prices
except in a situation of near- or actual monopoly.
The agreement also provides for certain minimum standards of service
during off-peak periods, and maximum delays in the busiest periods.
Finally, the treaty and concession agreement establish an
Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) to supervise fixed-link security,
safety, and environmental impact, and to assume responsibility for it
in exceptional circumstances.
Initially, 15 May 1993 was set as the Tunnel's opening date, but early
construction delays - or as TML maintains, delays in starting the
project up - caused this to be put back by a month to 15 June 1993.
Meanwhile real construction cost estimates rose (in 1985 prices
throughout) from around £2.3 billion in the 1985 submission, to £2.7
billion at the time of the Equity III prospectus in November 1987, to
nearly £3 billion a year later. At the end of 1989, they were
estimated by Eurotunnel at £4 billion, by TML at £4.2 billion, and by
the banks' technical adviser at a possible £4.6 billion. Total
financing costs, including allowance for inflation, had been estimated
at around £4.8 billion in 1987, at £5.4 billion in 1988, and were
thought by the end of 1989 to be anything between £7.5 and £8 billion.
What was at the root of these cost increases?
First, in spite of the fact that government agencies on both sides of
the Channel had been examining fixed link schemes for decades, when
the decision was made in 1984 to open the project to bidders, very
little time was allowed for detailed design studies in advance of
construction. The schedule called for the Tunnel to be open for
operation in May 1993. This meant that the project was to move from
design consideration to completion in a mere 7 1/2 years. As a result,
a number of design problems were not identified at the start of the
project and no provisions were made for them in Eurotunnel's initial
cost estimates. This problem was at the heart of the dispute over
costs between Eurotunnel and TML at the end of 1989. TML argued that
the cost increases were chiefly due to deficiencies in the initial
design and cost estimates. Eurotunnel maintained they were due to TML
inefficiencies in following a perfectly satisfactory design. The
independent monitor appointed to assess those early claims found
largely in favor of Eurotunnel, but the disputes continue.
A further complication arose from public surveillance of the project
through the Intergovernmental Commission. Eurotunnel and TML are
required to submit designs to the IGC for authorization. The original
concession agreement contained merely a general outline of the plan.
The additional submissions fill in the details. The IGC can reject any
design on grounds of safety, security, environmental acceptability,
and so on. In practice, under the pressure of time, the IGC has
received a number of design drafts during construction. This led to a
series of piecemeal approvals on some elements of the project, which
made ultimate rejection more difficult.
Second, the original promoters (CTG/FM) of the Channel Tunnel project
were construction companies and banks which sought their main return
from construction of the Tunnel, rather from its operation. Although
Eurotunnel acted quickly to distance itself from this core group of
founder shareholders, it nevertheless let a single contract for the
design and construction of the Tunnel to its founder shareholders in
the new guise of TML. The young Eurotunnel was at a distinct
disadvantage in negotiating with these experienced contractors. A
better approach might have been for Eurotunnel to let a series of
contracts for separate sections of the work.
A third source of cost escalation for the Tunnel is one that is common
to nearly all acquisitions. That is the competitive pressure that
prompts bidders to cut their cost estimates to the bone in order to
make a successful bid. Knowing that they were to be judged on
financial viability, the competing consortia tended to minimize their
margins. Later on, the cost increases were blamed on delays from the
parliamentary process which authorized the project and the early
Fourth, an imbalance in the client-contractor relationship is
generated by the fact that there comes a point in any large
construction project when the cost of schedule overruns (in the form
of lost revenues) is more damaging than direct cost increases. In
other words, since Eurotunnel cannot earn a cent on its investment
until the Tunnel is operational, it is apt to find schedule delays
more damaging than cost overruns. This put a real weapon in the hands
of the contractors.
To finance the Tunnel, Eurotunnel sought both equity and loan capital,
the latter being to some extent conditional on the former. The initial
equity interest of founder shareholders in Eurotunnel became known as
In October 1986, Equity II, a private placement of £258 million in
shares was arranged. This initial test of investor interest in
Eurotunnel went smoothly in France but nearly failed in Britain. By
February 1987, lackluster sales prompted several top management
resignations from the British side of Eurotunnel. Lord Pennock was
replaced by Alastair Morton, a merchant banker with a reputation as a
strong but abrasive leader. The British shares were finally placed,
but only after the Bank of England prodded major banks and
corporations to buy them.
In November 1987, hot on the heels of the October stock market crash,
Equity III was launched. This was the main public share issue of £770
million. Difficulties were again experienced in Britain, but the issue
was eventually fully underwritten.
Loan finance, in the initial form of a syndicated loan of £5 billion,
was raised through a consortium of 206 banks world-wide (of which few
were British). An important clause in the 1987 loan agreement
stipulated that the project had to be fully financed to completion.
This was to have significant impact later, as subsequent cost overruns
made it necessary for Eurotunnel to increase both equity and loan
capital beyond the combined £6 billion which had been raised by the
end of 1987. A discussion of these financial difficulties follows in
the next section.
Eurotunnel's operations and proposals are subject to considerable
external control. The Intergovernmental Commission is the main
oversight agency and under it are a number of subsidiary commissions,
such as the Safety Authority. The bank syndicate also appointed
technical watchdogs. In fact, in spite of the large amount of
regulatory machinery that has been built around the Tunnel, real
economic control is in the hands of the banking syndicate. It is the
banks which control finance at each stage, by monitoring construction
before allowing Eurotunnel to draw on its agreed lines of finance.
THE FINANCING AND FINANCIAL RESULTS OF
EUROTUNNEL: RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT
?This paper analyses the financial performance of Eurotunnel over the
period of its published accounts following the November 1987 Offer for
Sale to date, that is a period of 12 years. Approximately the first
half of this period (6 and a half years to June 1994) involved
construction work and the second half saw the commencement of
commercial operations. It is clear that the project did not proceed
entirely according to plan.?
Gould Distinguished Lecture Series 1995
News headlines 1999
Eurotunnel Figure Quits Patrick Ponsolle, executive chairman of
Eurotunnel, the Anglo-French operator of the Channel Tunnel, announced
on Monday he would step down after seven years at the helm. Mr
Ponsolle said he had "the feeling that I have reached my goals in
terms of ensuring the recovery of this company and I can move on". Mr
Ponsolle's unexpected decision came as Eurotunnel reported an
underlying loss before exceptionals of £124m ($180m) in 2000, down
from a £139m loss. (February 20th 2001)
Strikes at Eurotunnel Aslef, the British train driver's union, has
scheduled a strike at Eurotunnel on December 15th. Earlier strikes on
November 20th and 27th have not resulted in cancellations or delays,
Eurotunnel says. Eurotunnel has so far insisted that it will only
negotiate with the T&GWU trade union, with which it has a single union
deal. See also Eurotunnel PR. (December 1st 2000)
Eurotunnel is aiming at a 30% share of passenger bookings being done
on-line within two years. A dedicated 'e-business' team is working
flat out to introduce a stream of upgrades which will come on line in
the next few weeks. Internet bookings reduce costs for operators and
improve service to customers. (June 20th 2000)
Big increases in Eurotunnel's freight shuttle business last year
helped offset a fall in passenger numbers to give a small lift to
operating revenue last year, which rose 3% from £607,7m in 1998 to
£626,7m. But the gains were dwarfed by debts of £7bn, and passenger
numbers are still nearly half the forecast 12m at launch five years
ago. See also press release. (January 27th 2000)
The Channel Tunnel
Channel Tunnel Facts
English Channel Tunnel Fire
Construction of the Channel Tunnel
Channel Tunnel Rail Link
Eurostar (U.K.) Ltd.
The Chunnel (PDF file)
"Chunnel Redux," Europe, pp. 41-42; Jan-Feb 82.
"Plans for Cross-Channel Link Offered," New York Times,
pp. 37; 2 Nov 85.
"Britain's Thatcher, Mitterrand of France Meet for Decision on
Chunnel Proposals," Wall Street Journal, pp. 23; 17 Jan 86.
"Britain, France Give the Go-Ahead To $6.4 Billion Plan for
'Chunne!'," Wall Street Journal, pp. 33; 21 Jan 86.
"The Chunnel Again," New York Times, pp. A31; 21 Jan 86.
"Plans to Raise Funding For Chunnel Are Delayed," Wall Street
Journal, pp. 22; 14 Jul 86.
"Europe's Supertrains," The Economist, pp. 41-42; 14 Feb 87.
"New Doubt on Tunnel in Channel," New York Times, pp. D4;
23 Feb 87.
"Eurotunnel Gets SI.66 Billion Loan," New York Times, pp. D4;
14 May 87.
"Eurotunnel's Day of Reckoning," New York Times, pp. F1, F34;
15 Nov 87.
"Lack of British Interest Seen in Eurotunnel Sale," New York
Times, pp. DIO; 30 Nov 87.
"Le Tunnel? Mais 0ui! (Cuisine Is the Hurdle)," New York
Times, pp. 4; 24 Aug 88.
"High Tech: The Future Is Now," National Geographic,
pp. 96-101; Jul 89.
"Stock Price Jumps on News of Contract for Eurotunnel," Wall
Street Journal, pp. C16; 27 Jul 89.
Report of the Eiqhty-Fifth Round Table on Transport
Economics: Transport and Spatial Distribution of Activities,
European Conference of Ministers of Transport, 5-6 Apt 90.
"Despite Delays and Cost Overruns, Tunnel Workers Continue
Digging," New York Times, pp. D12; 18 Dec 89.
"The Channel Tunnel: Still Squaring a Circle," The Economist,
pp. 51; 25 Aug 90.
"Chunnel Vision," The New York Times Magazine, pp. 34-36, 70,
73, 74, 77; 16 Sep 90.
"A Hole in Lenin's Heart," The Economist, pp. 16-17,
3 Nov 90.
"Channel Tunnel Puts Spotlight on Growing Importance of
Rail," Business Travel News, pp. A12, 14 Jan 91.
"The Chunnel at the End of the Light," The Economist,
pp. 66; 13 Apt 91
"Air-conditioning a 32-Mile Tunnel," New York Times,
pp. D1, Dg; 1 May 91.
"Chunnel Rail Tunnel Joined," Wall Street Journal, 23 May 91.
"Fossil Found in Chunnel," Wall Street Journal, 31 May 91.
"Channel Tunnel Linkup," New York Times, 29 Jun 91.
"Crossing the Channel: Ferry Appealing," The Economist,
pp. 51; 29 Jun 91.
"Last Chunnel Passage Linked," Wall Street Journal, pp. A6;
The Channel Tunnel: Public Policy, Regional Development and
European Integration, Ian Holliday, Gerard Marcou, and Roger
Vickerman, Belhaven Press, London and New York, 1991.
"Farewell, Folkstone Ferry," New York Times, Sec. 5,
pp. xx43; 9 Feb 92.
"Eurotunnel to be Delayed," New York Times, pp. D2; 11 Feb 33.
"Eurotunnel - Company Report," Investext; 21 May 92.
"Dark Days for the Channel Tunnel," New York Times, pp. D1;
28 May 92.
"Eurotunnel Gets New Funds," New York Times, pp. 39;
30 May 92.
"Chunnel Opening Fulfills Centuries-Long Effort," Christian
Science Monitor, pp. 10; 10 Jun 92.
"Competition Revs for Chunnel Race," Christian Science
Monitor, pp. 10; 10 Jun 92.
"Project Hits Steep Overruns," Christian Science Monitor, pp.
II; i0 Jun 92.
"Chunnel, chunnel, toil and trouble," The Economist, pp. 72;
5 Sep 92.
"Eurotunnel's Opening Is Delayed Yet Again; Its Stock
Plummets," Wall Street Journal, pp. A14; 6 Oct 92.
"Missing Link Turns Up," The Economist, pp. 61-62; 12 Oct 92.
"Eurotunnel PLC: Concern Will Get Funding Beyond Project's
Start-Up," Wall Street Journal, pp. AI0; 30 Nov 92.
?New Delay on Channel Tunnel Seen," New York Times, pp. D3;
16 Dec 92.