The Chunnel

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.

chunnel3

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.

tunneling_tbm_diagram_large

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.

Travel

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.

Happy travels!

Sources:

http://science.discovery.com/science-technology/10-feats-of-engineering.htm

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/wonder/structure/channel.html

http://www.eurotunnelgroup.com/uk/the-channel-tunnel/history/

http://history1900s.about.com/od/1990s/p/Channel-Tunnel.htm

http://www.engineering.com/Library/ArticlesPage/tabid/85/ArticleID/79/The-Channel-Tunnel.aspx

http://www.therobbinscompany.com/our-products/tunnel-boring-machines/

http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Viaduct/About/Tunneling

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6 Responses to The Chunnel

  1. joekuhn93 says:

    I did not know of this development even though it had happened during the time that I was born. I am very surprised to know this because that is a very interesting and intriguing engineering marvel. It makes me want to visit France and England just because of the elaborate engineering that went into building the Chunnel. What is even more surprising is that it took over 20 billion dollars to complete the task. Do you think that the benefits of building the Chunnel outweight the costs of building it? Are there any other technological innovations like this that has happened with other countries?

    -joekuhn93

    • jaclynckrogh says:

      I think determining whether or not the benefits outweigh the cost is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I think the Chunnel was a great development and was worth the cost. It will be around for a while and is always put to use.
      Other countries have used similar technological innovations. The longest underground tunnel is the Seikan tunnel in Japan.

  2. sangmin402 says:

    I knew that there were some rail connection between France and England but didn’t know it was started to be developed in 1994. The fact that they had the technology to build tunnels underwater is so fascinating to me. I wander why did they made a tunnel in the first place? Airplanes were available. Also, why do you think England chose France to be the country to be connected. Why not Germany or Denmark or any other country close to England?

    • jaclynckrogh says:

      I think it is much more convenient to travel by rail. You can reach the other side within 20 minutes, and with the hassle of flying that can mean so much. As far as what country they chose, I believe it was due to pure proximity. The distance between France and England is the smallest, and since this was such a big development they didn’t need any extra distance to cover.

  3. engwrt0610 says:

    Great choice for your process post, Jaclyn; this was a fun read! I didn’t realize that the UK and France competed to dig the tunnel – ha.

    Something to think about for your posts in general: finding a well-known, comparable landmark might be useful in grabbing more readers on some of your more obscure locations. (The immediate comparison that comes to mind for this post is the Panama Canal, though the Chunnel is probably well-known enough not to necessitate this strategy.)

    • jaclynckrogh says:

      Thank you for the suggestion. I never thought about that, but it does make sense to compare unknown accomplishments with those more famous. It would also be interesting to see how different cultures developed similar or different designs for the same purpose.

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