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Definition: Channel Tunnel from Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary

Rail tunnel under English Channel from Folkestone, England to Sangatte (near Calais), France; opened 1994.


Summary Article: Channel Tunnel from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Tunnel built beneath the English Channel, linking Britain with mainland Europe. It comprises twin rail tunnels, 50 km/31 mi long and 7.3 m/24 ft in diameter, located 40 m/130 ft beneath the seabed. Construction began in 1987, and the French and English sections were linked in December 1990. It was officially opened on 6 May 1994. The shuttle train service, Le Shuttle, opened to lorries in May 1994 and to cars in December 1994. The tunnel's high-speed train service, Eurostar, linking London to Paris and Brussels, opened in November 1994.

The final cost of the tunnel was £12 billion, and left Eurotunnel plc, the Anglo-French company that built the tunnel, £9 billion in debt. In its first year, it made a loss of £925 million. Its first net profit was announced in March 1999.

History The idea for a tunnel goes back to Napoleonic times. In the 1880s British financier and railway promoter Edward Watkin started boring a tunnel near Dover, abandoning it in 1894 because of governmental opposition after driving 1.6 km/1 mi out to sea. In 1973 Britain and France agreed to back a tunnel, but a year later Britain pulled out following a change of government.

High-speed link The contract to build the London–Dover high-speed rail link was awarded to the London and Continental Railways Consortium in February 1996. The link, due to be completed in 2003, would allow Eurostar trains to maintain their high speeds within Britain; under existing legislation, Eurostar trains that travel at up to 300 kph/186 mph in France are forced to slow to 80 kph/50 mph once in Britain. Transit time between London and Paris is 3 hours, and 2 hours 40 minutes between London and Brussels.

Asylum issues Tensions rose between Britain and France in September 2001 over the number of asylum seekers attempting to enter Britain illegally through the Channel Tunnel. Eurotunnel plc failed in its bid to have a French court order the closure of a Red Cross centre that houses asylum seekers near the tunnel's French entrance. However, the two governments announced a plan on to increase cooperation between their police forces, and to tighten security at the French end of the tunnel.

A fire broke out in a freight train in the tunnel on 18 November 1996, involving 34 people who were removed to safety. It was predicted that the tunnel would not be fully operational again for at least three months; limited passenger and freight services were resumed in December 1996. Closure of the tunnel has lost Eurotunnel revenue and damaged public confidence in the project. It has been disclosed that the cost of the fire could reach nearly £300 million, but Eurotunnel claims that the losses will be largely covered by insurance and will not jeopardize the deal to restructure its £8.7 billion of debts. Revenues before the fire were running at £1.5 million a day.

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