The Eurotunnel was constructed to create a direct link from France to England. A massive tunnel was constructed underground, beneath the English Channel, to allow a train to directly travel from one side to the other. This project was incredibly unique due to the fact that it connects two separate countries together, completely disregarding the body of water. The construction itself is also very unique because the tunnel began construction on both countries at the same time, which eventually connected together at a certain point.
A French engineer named Albert Mathieu Favier thought out the original plan in 1802, but it was never followed through. In order to get the idea approved, both countries had to agree to the idea. France completely supported the idea of the tunnel, but England was against it. At that time, Napoleon was leading the French, and England was afraid that the whole point of it was in order to get a direct route to England and allow for an easy invasion. Other ideas would float around for the next two centuries, but no real attempt was there until the 80’s.
In 1984, French President Francois Mitterrand and Prime Minister Margaret Thratcher agreed that a tunnel connecting the two was a good idea and that it was at their best interest to construct. The jobs were needed by both countries, but they both knew that there was no way that either of them could finance it, so they decided to hold a contest. The contest accepted the ideas of all willing companies that had an idea, but as a requirement, the company had to have a way of raising the must-needed funds. When submitting their idea, the company had to make sure they meet three criteria. The companies needed a plan to raise the funds for the project, have the ability to operate the Channel link once the project was completed, and it has to last at least 120 years. Different construction companies submitted about 10 different proposals. Many of the designs were quickly dismissed due to the fact that they did not meet any of the requirements that the contest winner was required to have. The Balfour Beatty Construction Company won the contest and they would be in charge of the construction project.
In July of 1987, the Treaty of Canterbury was ratified and allowed for the beginning stages of the project to begin. The treaty was signed at the Canterbury Cathedral in England. By having both sides sign the document, it allowed for the construction and operation of the Eurotunnel. Construction of the service tunnel in England would begin on December 15th. France took a little bit longer to begin their construction and would not begin until February 28th. England started their construction near Shakespeare Cliff outside of Dover; the French began their construction near the village of Sangatte.
During construction they knew they needed to have more than one tunnel in order to allow for safe travel from one side to another. There would be 3 separate tunnels that would be closely constructed to one another. Two of the tunnels were each one ways for passengers to travel from one side to the other and the other one acted as a service tunnel. The service tunnel is used so that once it was completed the workers could use it for maintenance, including drainage pipes, communication cables, drainage pipes, and other uses that allows the other two tunnels to work as efficiently as possible.
Trying to get the project started was a lot of work and it was not done easily. Balfour Beatty Construction had to find over 50 large banks to give out loans so they could finance the entire project. Highly experienced engineers were needed because this project was something that was never done ever before and they wanted to make sure the risk was limited. They had to find a way to hire 13,000 skilled and unskilled workers that needed jobs and housing for every single worker. The technology to dig these special tunnels under the English Channel was sort of there but they needed to tweak it a little bit. The boring machines were specially designed so they could construct the tunnels under such large amounts of water and pressure without having any major complications that could put the entire project at risk.
Each boring machine, tunnel-boring machine (TBM), weighed approximately 1.1 tons and they needed to use 11 for this immense project. These massive machines were essential for the project and it allowed them to successfully get the project accomplished.
The boring machines were capable of digging 250 meters every day by moving the chalk and transporting it behind using a conveyor belt that was attached to the TBM. England and France both used separate methods in order to dispose of the debris. The British part of the tunnels decided to remove the debris, also known as spoil, by hauling it to the surface using railroad wagons. By having this excess tunnel spoil, England was able to deposit it to fill an area and increase the size of the UK by 90 acres. They decided to fill an area nearby Shakespeare Cliff to create Samphire Hoe. The tunnel being excavated by the French decided to mix the debris with water and to pump it out of the tunnel using pipes. At the end of the project, a few of the TBM’s were sold off to buyers, and one of them still resides at the bottom of the channel buried under sediment.
The project itself was something that they just never had to deal with and new ideas and methods had to be developed in order to accomplish this task. Special lasers and surveying equipment had to be used in order to connect the two different sections of the tunnel. Nobody was to sure that this was actually going to work, but they ended up being successful and were able to align the two sides together.
On December 1st at exactly 12:12 CET, the two sides of the service tunnel would connect and two workers from each side would meet hands and the two tunnels finally became one. Each country put out a raffle to decide who was the luck two to be the first to handshake one another. The English side of the project was able to dig 22.3 km from mainland England, while France was only able to dig 15.6 km before the two connected. The north tunnel would be completed on May 22, 1991 at 12:20 CET and the south tunnel was completed on June 28, 1991 at 12:50 CET. Digging the tunnels was not the end of the project, wires, pipes, and other appliances needed to be installed before the tunnels were open to the public. Once everything was completed, Queen Elizabeth II and French President Francois Mitterand officially opened the Chunnel. The first international train for commercial use would not officially cross until June 1st.