Channel Tunnel, Eurotunnel and Eurostar Overview
Since the 1960s, the governments of the UK and France have been envisioning a direct link between the two countries, whether by bridge or tunnel across the English Channel. In 1986, this vision became a reality when Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand announced that the Channel Tunnel Group and France-Manche were winners for the bid to build a tunnel under the Channel to connect the two countries.
In 1994, the Channel Tunnel, or 'chunnel', a 50km long undersea tunnel was completed.
Eurotunnel manages the infrastructure of the Tunnel and operates accompanied truck shuttle and passenger shuttle (both car and coach) services between Folkestone in the UK and Coquelles in France.
The transport system is actually made up of three tunnels: two tunnels through which shuttles travel and a central service tunnel. The tunnels lie approximately 40 metres below the seabed and the 39km undersea section makes it the longest undersea tunnel in the world. Cross-passages connect the rail tunnels to the service tunnel - the only one of its kind in the world - every 375 metres, providing access for safety and maintenance purposes. The service tunnel also acts as a 'safe haven' maintained at a higher air pressure and thus will remain free from smoke and fumes, in case of an emergency.
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Since opening, 57 million people have travelled through the Channel Tunnel. Eurotunnel shuttle locomotives are the most powerful locomotives in the world, generating up to 7MW (7,500hp), hauling trains of up to 2,400 tonnes, at speeds of up to 90mph (140 kph). The trains are protected by ATP (Automatic Train Protection), which brings the shuttle to a controlled stop, in the event of driver error.
Eurotunnel is now the market leader for cross-Channel travel and transports over 6.6 million passengers (on Eurostar), 2.3 million cars, 1.3 million trucks, 70,000 coaches and 1.5 million tonnes of freight annually. It is also the market leader for pet travel, with over 34,000 dogs and cats having crossed the Channel, since Eurotunnel began its Pet Travel Scheme in 2000.
There are several sources of income for Eurotunnel. Firstly, from its own passenger shuttle and truck shuttle services. Secondly, toll income from other train operators, which use the Tunnel, such as Eurostar for rail passengers and EWS and SNCF for freight rail. Eurotunnel's operating revenue for 2003 was £566 million, 41 per cent of which was derived from the railway business and 55 per cent from its shuttle services. The company is quoted on the London, Paris and Brussels stock exchanges.
Using Eurostar is a time saving and cost effective means of reaching Belgium and northern France from the UK. Eurostar trains pass through the Channel Tunnel and give incredible journey times of 2 hours, 15 minutes to central Paris and an even quicker 2 hours to Gare du Midi Station in Brussels.
Good motorway access and car parking facilities at Ebbsfleet and Ashford is convenient for motorists using Eurostar trains to the continent. During the week there are about 25 Eurostar trains from St Pancras bound for Paris and Brussels. One train a day goes to Paris Disneyland. Depending on the season there are special Eurostar services for Avignon and the Alps.
Modern rolling stock provides travellers using Eurostar with three class options, comfortable and spacious seating and buffet services. Passengers in Leisure Select and Business classes are served with free beverages and light meals. The normal check in time is 30 minutes before travel but Business Premier gains a fast-track 10 minute special service.
The advantage of travelling Eurostar over flying is that in all destinations the arrival station is closer to the city centre than airports. Gare du Nord in Paris is a five minute Metro ride from the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower or Champs Elysees. Passengers not wishing to travel through to terminus stations can get off in Calais or Lille.
The principal embarkation point in the UK for passengers using Eurostar is St Pancras International Station in London. St Pancras is only a quick journey from most parts of London with the capital’s extensive Underground network. A few of the trains also stop at Ebbsfleet or Ashford before going through the tunnel.