The Underground train tunnel that traverses the channel between England and France via a sub-aquatic cave tube is affectionately known as “The Chunnel.”
It was built between 1988 and 1994, requiring some major modern engineering to accomplish it. Built under and through the shortest expanse between these two countries, it is the first and only train tunnel of its kind and the only dual country collaboration project that connects the tiny island nation of Great Britain to the European mainland.
To really understand all that makes The Chunnel extraordinary, you have to know some of the amazing facts behind its construction. The following facts are just a sampling of the amazing things you can learn about this train tunnel.
The Building of The Chunnel
The Chunnel was constructed in such a way that the trains that glide along its tracks come from the North (in London) and the South (near Paris) right into the Chunnel. In fact, the travel along this undersea tunnel is so flawless and smooth that the only way you can tell that you have entered the Chunnel is by the total lack of light and familiar land forms outside the train. Lights are turned on inside the train when it enters the Chunnel so passengers can see inside the trains.
Large boring drills drill with sharp cone-shaped screw bit was used to drill downward at an angle through the rock common to the Dover and Kent areas. The drills were ten feet across, and any man or woman on the job was dwarfed by the machine. Simultaneous drilling began on the French side, near Calais.
Several metric tonnes of steel make up the rails. Like most underground trains, there are two rails for the train to glide on, and a third rail for the transmission of electrical power. The trains loop around at either end when they arrive in order to prepare them to leave again when the next train arrives.
Riding the Chunnel
The Chunnel can be quite narrow at times, only wide enough for the Eurostar trains to pass through. As such, support structures for the tunnel are only built in where they can be the most effective and the least obtrusive to train movement.
The tracks are modern electric subway rails (in Britain, Underground rails, and in France, Le Metro electric rails), with the trains looping around at both ends so that the trains are on a constant running loop. At the moment, only one train can fit through the Chunnel at a time, so as one train arrives from Britain, another leaves from France. The loop all day long, making it very easy for passengers from either country (and tourists) to go to and from either country.
Buy your Eurostar tickets from the Eurostar depot in either country, or purchase them online. If you are a tourist, it is strongly recommended that you plan far in advance and purchase your tickets to ride accordingly. Like any other European train, you can travel coach, first class, or business class. (There are no sleeper cars on the Eurostar as the ride lasts barely two hours.) The seats sell out due to the Chunnel’s popularity with the British, the French and other Europeans traveling to either of these two countries.