Friday, February 11, 2011


This afternoon I venture again into the Channel Tunnel, or ‘Chunnel’, to use a less salubrious nickname, on the marvellous Eurostar train to Paris. Today’s post is therefore all about the Chunnel and the Eurostar – facts, figures and ‘formation culled for your interest from various informative websites (listed at the end). While you’re reading, imagine me relaxing in First Class with a cup of tea, reading a book and watching the English countryside go by – at least until we get to the coast and enter the darkness that is the undersea world of the English Channel.

A typical Channel Tunnel cross section.
A service tunnel lies in between the twin rail tunnels.
On board
Tunnelling began on the Channel Tunnel in 1988. It is 50.5-kilometre (31.4 mi) long. May 1993 the Eurostar terminal, then at Waterloo, was completed, and in June 1993 the first ‘test train’ arrived through the Channel Tunnel.  In May 1994 The Queen officially opened Waterloo International and then travelled on the Eurostar to Calais Coquelles for the official inauguration of the Channel Tunnel with President Mitterrand of France.  In November of that year, Eurostar services were launched between London Waterloo International station, Paris Gare du Nord, Brussels Midi and Lille Europe. In 1996 they started direct services to Disneyland Paris, and in 1997 a ski service to the French Alps.

Eurostar in the countryside
High speed lines have been gradually added to connect to the service and improve running times.  In December 1997 a 55 mile long high speed line in Belgium was opened, reducing travel times between London and Brussels to two hours and 40 minutes. October 1998 saw the start of work on the UK high speed rail line between the Channel Tunnel and London; and in July 2003 Eurostar set a UK rail speed record of 208 mph (334.7 kph).  In September 2003 The first section of ‘High Speed 1’ in the UK opened, reducing journey times to Paris to two hours 35 minutes and to Brussels to two hours 20 minutes.

In November 2007 the Eurostar Terminal in London was set to move to St Pancras International. Eurostar made its inaugural run between Paris Nord and St Pancras International - the journey took only 2 hours 3 minutes. The inaugural run from Brussels Midi to St Pancras International was accomplished in only 1 hour 41 minutes. The commercial journey times, once the terminus moved to St Pancras, were a little longer, but still less than from Waterloo: London to Paris is reduced to two hours 15 minutes, and London to Brussels journey time, one hour 51 minutes. Presumably this is so that your cup of tea (or glass of wine – depending on the Class of travel) doesn’t spill.

Eurostar Locator
In September 2008, a fire on a Eurotunnel freight shuttle train closes the Channel Tunnel. Eurostar had to suspend high-speed passenger services. For a few months there was only a single line operating in the Chunnel and timetables were longer and disrupted.

Who owns and runs Eurostar? Eurostar was until 2009 operated jointly by the national railway companies of France (SNCF) and Belgium(SNCB), Eurostar (UK) Ltd, a subsidiary of London and Continental Railways, which also owns the high-speed infrastructure and stations on the British side. In January 2010, Eurostar was incorporated as a single corporate entity called Eurostar International, replacing the joint operation between EUKL, SNCF and SNCB.

Waiting area at St Pancras

Eurostar has become the dominant operator in cross-channel intercity passenger travel on the routes that it operates, carrying more passengers than all airlines combined. It prides itself on its green credentials and claims to ‘Tread Lightly’.

Records: The Channel Tunnel used by Eurostar services holds the record for having the longest undersea section anywhere in the world, as well as being the second longest rail tunnel in the world. On 16 May 2006 Eurostar set a new record for the longest non-stop high-speed journey, a distance of 1,421 kilometres (883 mi) from London to Cannes, taking 7 hours 25 minutes. On 4 September 2007 a record-breaking train left Paris Gare du Nord and reached London St Pancras in 2 hours 3 minutes 39 seconds, carrying journalists and railway workers. 

Check-in, St Pancras
On 15 April 2010, when air traffic in Western Europe closed because of the eruption of the  Eyjafjallajökull volcano, many travellers between the UK and the European mainland instead took the Eurostar train, all tickets between Brussels and London on 15 and 16 April being sold out within 3½ hours after the closure of British airspace. Between 15 and 20 April, Eurostar put on 33 additional trains and carried 165,000 passengers – 50,000 more than had been scheduled to travel during this period.

On 3rd December 2008 the ten millionth passenger was carried on Eurostar. By August 2009 it had carried its 100 millionth. Passenger numbers are growing by about 3% a year at the moment. So on 11th February 2011, when it will carry me, and I guess I'll be around Passenger Number 104,500,00. Ish.

"All aboard!"

SParviatheChannelTunneltakingaslittleas2 hours 15 minutes for the 495 km (307 mile) via the Channel Tunnel, taking as little as 2 hours 15 minutes for the 495 km (307 mile) journey.ney.

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