Monday, June 2, 2014

A Chunnel Experience

The cue to board the train
In my opinion, the Euro Tunnel, also known as the Channel Tunnel or the Chunnel, is an example of amazing modern technology. Connecting Calais, France to Folkestone, United Kingdom the Chunnel is a 23.5 mile rail tube that transports trains and their passengers and cargo at up to 99 miles per hour under the English Channel. The tunnel has reduced what had been a 90 minute ferry ride to a 35 minute train ride. I remember reading about the tunnel when it first opened and was immediately fascinated by it. And this past weekend we finally joined the over 10 million people who transit under the English Channel each year.

This year (2014) marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the tunnel but the planning for the tunnel dates back for over two centuries. As early as 1802 there were conversations about the feasibility of a tunnel that would connect Great Britain with continental Europe. In the 1880s exploratory tunnels on both sides of the Channel were drilled but later abandoned. For the next one hundred years more discussions were held but due to wars, skepticism, costs and international disagreements the tunnel never became a reality. But finally in 1987, an agreement was reached between England and France with ground finally being broken the following year. Boring of the tunnel took place on both the English and French sides. By the time the two sides met, 15,000 people had been employed during its construction and ten construction workers had lost their lives. The total cost was (in today's terms) 12 billion pounds. And six years after construction began, the tunnel was opened with Queen Elizabeth II and Francoise Mitterrand meeting in Calais before traveling back to England together. The American Society of Civil Engineers named the tunnel as one of seven wonders of the modern world.

So how did I like the tunnel? I must say that it was even more impressive than I had imagined. The whole operation moved like a well oiled machine. (With up to four trains leaving an hour, twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year for twenty years, it makes sense that things went smoothly). The maze of flyovers, inspection booths, and passport control centers on both sides of the tunnel were staffed by surprisingly chipper employees who actually wanted to help. Cars and trucks were moved on and off with efficiency I haven't witnessed in a long time. Even when our train had a technical difficulty on our return trip, we were seamlessly offloaded and moved onto a new train. Perhaps the airlines could take a few cues from the Eurotunnel operations staff.....I suppose you could say we sat back and relaxed as our train sped under the Channel and back up again. I must say, the time really flew and it felt as though it was over before it had even begun. Soon we were spit out onto British soil and off we went.

Would I use the tunnel again? Absolutely. In fact, we already have a return trip planned.

"Relaxing" on the train; or at least that is what the loudspeaker
encouraged us to do

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