Eurotunnel celebrates 20th anniversary of its opening

Tuesday marks the 20-year anniversary since the opening of the Channel Tunnel, a breakthrough piece of engineering that saw France and England accomplish a project which had been put forward hundreds of years previously by engineers such as Albert Matthieu in 1802.

The Eurotunnel

The Eurotunnel Image by Mike Knell / CC BY-SA 2.0

The 50.5m tunnel was unofficially completed on 30 November 1990 when the two ends met in the middle. But it was officially announced on 1 December 1990, when the media were present to see the engineers, Englishman Graham Fagg and Frenchman Phillippe Cozette, break through the service tunnel.

It was a sensational piece of engineering at the time, and still today it has the world’s longest underwater portion of a tunnel, measuring up to 37.9 kilometres. At its deepest the tunnel is 75m below sea level, whilst on average it stays at around 50m.

The Channel Tunnel connects Calais in France and Folkestone in Kent, near Dover. High speed trains travel from King's Cross St Pancras in London to Kent, and then through the tunnel to Calais, and on to Paris.

There are three tunnels, in fact, in the Channel Tunnel - one for passengers aboard high-speed Eurostar trains, one for cars and vehicles known as the Eurotunnel Shuttle, and a service vehicle for emergencies. The speed limit in the tunnel is 160km per hour.

The Eurotunnel at Calais

The Eurotunnel at Calais Image by hakzelf

The plans for the tunnel came about as a joint effort between France and the UK, although the UK officially bored further than the French. It was seen as a shared project, and when the tunnel was equipped to run, Queen Elizabeth II and the then French President Francois Mitterand embarked on the journey from their respective countries as part of a ceremony in 1994.

Construction of the tunnel began in 1988 and took six years, being finally completed and fit for purpose in 1994. It cost 80% more than expected, at £4.65 billion. It has been prominent in the news recently as refugees and migrants have travelled to the tunnel in the hope of being able to gain access to the UK that way.

It's considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World alongside the Empire State Building, the Itaipu Dam in South America, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Panama Canal, the North Sea protection works in the Netherlands, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Related content