6th May 1994. Light at the end of the Tunnel.
It was a French engineer who submitted plans to Napoleon with the idea of a Channel Tunnel in 1802.
It wasn’t to be until 192 years later, Today in 1994, that the official opening of the long awaited Tunnel took place, which was thirty years after France and Britain agreed to build at a projected cost of £160 million.
The agreement was eventually signed at Canterbury by Prime-Minister Thatcher and President Mitterrand in 1986.
Civil engineers had less than seven years in which to drive more than 93 miles of tunnel which includes the double railway link between two of the largest rail terminals in Europe, and commission an array of services and control systems.
The project of the 31-mile tunnel linking Britain and France, under one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, was plagued by costs and safety problems, but completed despite language difficulties, two sets of national construction and safety and legal codes, ten contractors and numerous syndicate banks.
It was forecast to cost £4.6b at 1985 prices, but over-ran by 80%, and constituted one of the world’s largest privately financed engineering endeavours.
One of the early conditions laid down on the Channel Tunnel Company, was to draw up plans for a motorway under the water. This they duly produced showing a three-lane route, though the chances of its happening are slim, especially considering Eurotunnel’s finances.
It was back in 1875 that an Act of Parliament, gave permission for drilling and one shaft was dug by 800 Welsh miners in 1880, with a second dug at Shakespeare Cliff, Dover a year later by financier and engineer, Sir Edward Watkin of the South-East Railway.
The French Channel Company made a similar trial tunnel from Sangatte, the present location of the French Terminal.
This original tunnelling was later found to be still in good condition, apart from minor seepage through the porous chalk, and was built with the aid of the Beaumont-English tunnelling machine, at a rate of 67 yards a week.
However in 1889, the British Government stopped the Tunnel. The Queen and Military were always against the notion, including Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Garnet Wolseley, particularly as the Prussians were on the march in France, and this despite measures to flood in case of invasion.
In 1907 Campbell- Bannerman’s Cabinet opposed a new Tunnel Bill, and interwar successive governments turned down the idea, and not until the 1950s was the project again raised.
By 1959 test holes were made, and in 1968 the Transport Minister, Richard Marsh optimistically told the Commons that the Tunnel should be completed by 1976, ‘if it is decided to go ahead with the project’.
It was to be another 18 years before the Tunnel opening took place, which today is operated by Eurotunnel based in Paris, whilst Eurostar run the trains.