Eurotunnel - Connecting UK with Europe

A short history of the Eurotunnel rail link (HS1).


High speed one

The Channel Tunnel runs for 31.4 miles beneath the English Channel - it's the longest section of underwater tunnel in the world. The construction of the tunnel was an immense project which took 13,000 workers six years to complete - it is recognised as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

On its launch in 1994, the Eurostar service transformed European travel. Running through the newly opened Channel Tunnel, it provided the first direct train service between the UK, France and Belgium. Eurostar trains travel at an average of 186 miles per hour, making them the fastest trains in service in the UK. A Eurostar train also holds the UK rail speed record of 208 miles per hour.

As huge boring machines tunnelled beneath the English Channel, the muck truck trains removed the 4.3 million cubic metres of earth and rock that was displaced. This spoil was then deposited at Shakespeare Cliff near Dover, increasing the size of the UK by 90 acres. Since its launch in 1994, the Eurostar service has more than doubled the number of people travelling from the UK to Paris and Brussels.

While we may think of it as something new, the idea of connecting UK and France via subterranean means is actually nothing new. 

In 1798 an engraving from a French print entitled 'Divers Projets sur la descente en Angleterre' (see below), shows an imaginary invasion of England by the French Army. Forces are seen advancing through a Channel Tunnel and arriving in ships and balloons! 

The project of administering the construction and the operations of a railway tunnel under the Channel was finally launched in 1973 at Chequers by Edward Heath, British Prime Minister, and Georges Pompidou, French President, when a Franco-British Channel Tunnel Treaty was signed. In 1988 construction started and on the 1 December 1990 British and French teams achieved the first historic breakthrough under the Channel, in the service tunnel at 22.3 km from the UK and 15.6 from France. On 6 May 1994 Queen Elizabeth II and French President François Mitterrand officially opened the tunnel and freight services were started in June of that year, with passenger services in December.

Also known as HS1, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link was the UK's first high speed railway - it opened in 2007 and allowed the Eurostar trains to run at full speed between London and Folkestone for the first time. The new line's terminus, London's iconic St Pancras station, underwent a huge six year renovation before becoming the new UK home of Eurostar. 

The network of Eurostar destinations and connected high-speed services continues to grow - in May 2015, a new Eurostar route between London and Marseille became the first high-speed rail service from the UK to the Mediterranean.

From October 2015, our Great Hall will become home to a Eurostar Power Car class 373, donated by Eurostar. Sitting alongside other railway greats, find our more about its unique legacy to rail travel in Europe.

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Archive Images

Background: Class 87