What Is the Chunnel Train?

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What Is the Chunnel Train?
What Is the Chunnel Train? (Image: Photos: Bitman, Marcin Wichary, Austinevan- Creative Commons Attribution License)

Europe's Chunnel Train, also known as the Channel Tunnel and Eurostar, is an underwater rail service linking England and northern France. Constructed beneath the English Channel, the rail system has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Since opening in 1994, it has become a vital lifeline transporting both passengers and goods.

History

The design for the first English Channel tunnel was introduced in 1802 with numerous excavation attempts made in the following 150 years. It wasn't until 1973 that any real progress was made, but even this project was abandoned in 1975 due to a lack of funding. Finally in 1984, the British and French governments began looking for private investors to take on the feat. The Eurotunnel Group, comprised of 200 banks and commercial investors, presented organized plans and were granted the project contract in 1986, breaking ground in 1988. The train opened to passengers in 1994.

Display of Tunnel Construction
Display of Tunnel Construction

Purpose

The original goal of the Channel Tunnel was to expedite transportation of people, commercial goods, vehicles, buses and equipment between London and Paris. Tourists can travel between the cities in 2 hours and 15 minutes, increasing tourism revenue for both cities. Additional destinations and connections have since been added, allowing travel between London and Brussels in 1 hour 50 minutes.

Chunnel Sign
Chunnel Sign

Construction

More than 60,000 jobs were created during the six years it took to build the engineering marvel, but the project also faced many setbacks. Construction was plagued by worker fatalities, fires and equipment failure. At a cost of $5 million a day, the build was far overbudget, with the total cost quoted between $7 billion and $21 billion. A culmination of these issues led to a delay in the chunnel's opening.

Construction of the Chunnel
Construction of the Chunnel

Tunnel Facts

The tunnel consists of three interconnected, 5-foot thick concrete tubes. Two of the tubes, each spanning 14 feet across, contain the railway tracks. The center tube is designated for emergency vehicles and maintenance crews. The tubes are buried an average of 150 feet below the sea bed, with some sections reaching a depth of 250 feet. The tunnel covers a total of 31 miles, 23 underwater.

Train Facts

The trains, or shuttles, reach 20 cars long and earned the distinction of being the longest passenger trains in the world. The speed of the train is dependent on the rail type. The UK has updated sections with high-speed rails, increasing the train's speed to 168 mph. Inside the tunnel the trains travel approximately 100 mph. Tracks in France and Belgium allow shuttles to reach 186 mph. Passengers can choose premium-, first- or standard-class tickets.

Inside the Chunnel Train
Inside the Chunnel Train

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