Courtesy Reuters


Almost unnoticed during the postwar crises in European relationships, the English Channel Tunnel-that "hardy perennial"-has inched its way forward until now, with a consensus of political and expert opinion behind it, the project appears to be on the threshold of realization. The official decision to proceed with "Chunnel," as it is nicknamed, was announced last year in an exchange of messages between Queen Elizabeth II and General de Gaulle. There followed a final technical survey, conducted for the two governments by the Channel Tunnel Study Group. The data resulting from its extensive geological and geophysical investigations enabled the route to be determined and precise engineering plans to be drawn up. Certain administrative and financial matters remain to be dealt with before actual construction can begin, but it seems certain that within six or seven years passengers will be finding the rail journey between London and Paris no more remarkable than, for instance, a trip from New York to Boston or from Paris to Brussels.

The idea of a land link between the island of Great Britain and the Continent of Europe is not novel. As early as 1751, the Academy of Amiens awarded a prize to an otherwise unknown Monsieur Desmarets for his outstanding design of a connecting passageway. Plans for an undersea tunnel (complete with a mid-channel island "to breathe the horses") were exhibited in 1802 at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines and so impressed the First Consul-Napoleon Bonaparte-that he mentioned the scheme to Charles James Fox as "one of the great enterprises we can now undertake together." The fracturing of the Peace of Amiens, however, led to three-quarters of a century during which the concept was kept alive only by a handful of enthusiasts. Even Guizot, France's last Royalist prime minister and a man deeply committed to rapprochement with England, failed to encourage the scheme during the long reign of Louis Philippe. Practical work was not undertaken until 1878, when British and French entrepreneurs commenced actual excavation of galleries.

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