Behind the announcement, some 52 years ago, that an undersea tunnel connection between France and England would finally become a serious prospect, there lay more than a century of speculation and suggestions as to how that end could been achieved.

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Mathieu-Favier’s plan for a coach service through the channel, 1802.

In the middle of the Napoleonic wars, the French mining engineer Jacques-Joseph Mathieu-Favier already thought it a good idea to build a connecting tunnel. The year was 1802 – and the means of transport for travelling through the hollow then would have been horse-drawn carriages! A change of horses would have been required halfway through, which was part of the project.

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Thomé de Gamond’s plan for a Channel tunnel, with a harbour mid-Channel on the Varne sandbank.

Throughout the 19th century the idea did not die, and the first geological and hydrographical surveys were undertaken by the Frenchman Aimé Thomé de Gamond (1807-1876). Only after an Act of Parliament authorised the Channel Tunnel Company Ltd. in 1875 to make some preliminary studies, were the first shafts drilled on both sides of the Channel. More can be read here. However, the project was not long pursued.

The 20th century saw other project outlines – here is one from 1929. Yet, a persistent fear of an alien invasion, the unimaginable dimension and prohibitive costs of such a project, and the lack of adequate equipment stood in the way of serious advancements. In 1955 territorial studies were picked up again. After the announcement in 1964, surveys were conducted and first construction began on both sides in 1974. By 1975 the ongoing oil crisis brought everything once more to a standstill.

Finally, on 28 Feb. 1988, the Eurotunnel Company began in earnest and succeeded in building a 50.5 km–long tube with three tunnels beneath the English Channel, linking Folkestone (Kent, UK) with Coquelles, near Calais (France). In fact, it is the tunnel with the longest undersea portion in the world and a unique achievement in engineering, so much so that it has been classified as one of the seven modern wonders in the world. It was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II and the French President F. Mitterrand on 6 May 1994, and opened for public transport in December that year.

There is an article about the inauguration in the Telegraph. Eurotunnel Le Shuttle provides a succinct overview of the relevant details concerning the Channel Tunnel.

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Source: BBC News

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