The Chunnel, short for the Channel Tunnel, is not a hidden engineering marvel. Most are aware that the UK and France are connected via a railroad system in tunnels underground. Its popularity makes this modern engineering feat no less spectacular.
Throughout history Europe has been shaped politically and culturally by the separation between England and mainland Europe. The English, while close enough to be apart of European culture were able to develop separately, and use the water as a military defensive tool. Without the English Channel they probably wouldn’t have developed the naval powerhouse that they did, which in turn would have changed the outcome of many European wars. It’s hard to imagine how different our world today could’ve been. On the other hand, the separation was also a hindrance on the business and personal travel between European countries. Due to the unpredictable weather, traveling by boat was a large inconvenience.
Building a tunnel had been talked about numerous times before it was actually completed in 1994. People were designing plans since the early 1800s, but due to concerns about national security and expenses, the plans were denied. In 1984 the French and British government agreed on starting a consultation process for privately funded tunnel designs, and in 1986 a design was agreed upon.
The Building Process
The first task of making the tunnel a reality was finding the best place to start drilling. The bottom of the English Channel had to be meticulously examined. It was determined that the lower chalk layer would be the place to begin.
When the actual digging began it was considered a race. The British and the French both tried to reach the middle faster than the other. Both sides used the same TBMs, Tunnel Boring Machines. The machines cut through the layer of chalk and collected the left over spoil, or debris. The spoil was then transported back with conveyor belts. The British brought the spoil to the surface using railway wagons while the French added water and pumped it out through pipelines.
While the chalk was being cut away, a layer of concrete had to be applied. This layer waterproofed the tunnel as well as protected it against the pressure created from the water.
Although the British won the race to the middle, it was a joint effort to connect the two tunnels. There had been lots of planning using the newest technology to make sure the tunnels were aligned, but it was still an amazing moment when the two tunnels became one.
The Chunnel actually consists of three tunnels, ducts, and smaller tunnels for the necessary equipment, but after the first tunnel was built the light could truly be seen at the end. When all was said and done the project cost $21 billion.
England and France have many tourist attractions. While the Chunnel might not be the main reason to visit either country, it can be the form of transportation you use to get from one to the other. To purchase tickets between London and Paris visit www.eurostar.com.