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. These reached out to a mile from each coast when, in 1883, General Sir Garnet Wolseley, Adjutant-General of the British Army, helped persuade Her Majesty's Government that a tunnel might too easily become a path for French invasion. Lord Randolph Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons in 1889, added a sidelight to this objection-"the reputation of England has hitherto depended upon her being, as it were, virgo intacta."

For nearly two thousand years, England had looked to the "moat defensive" praised by Shakespeare. The Entente Cordiale produced a new situation, but one whose significance was only slowly appreciated. Marshal Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies in World War I, drew the lesson in a 1921 speech before the Cercle Interallié: "If the English and French had had a tunnel under the Channel in 1914, the war would have been shortened by at least two years." None the less, in a 40-minute meeting held on July 1, 1924, the British Committee of Imperial Defence rejected the proposed Channel Tunnel. Lord Randolph's son, Winston Churchill, commented briskly: "There is no doubt about their promptitude. The question is: Was their decision right or wrong? I do not hesitate to say that it was wrong." Continuing his championship of what for long appeared to be a lost cause, Churchill wrote in The Daily Mail, February 12, 1936: "The course of the Great War seemed entirely to justify the view that the existence of the tunnel would have been a great advantage to Britain. It would sensibly have eased the whole movement of armies and stores to France, and have brought back our sick, wounded and leave-men in perfect safety. The saving of uncounted millions of money and immense tonnage in shipping would have been available for other forms of war-making power."

The experience of World War II and the increase in the importance of air power, together with Britain's broadened alliance with Western Europe in NATO, led to a fundamental reassessment of the strategic position. When, on February 16, 1955, Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (now chairman of the all-party Channel Tunnel Parliamentary Committee) put the question in the House of Commons whether the Government would have military objections to raise against the tunnel, Minister of Defense Harold Macmillan replied, "Scarcely at all." As the importance for Britain of cheaper and more reliable transport to the Continent was driven home forcefully by heightened competition from the nations of the Common Market, public opinion began to take a hand: in 1961 a Gallup Poll showed one in every four Englishmen opposed to the idea; last year only one in ten opposed.

Shortly after assuming office a year ago, the Labor Minister of Transport, Mr. Fraser, stated that the new administration "wished the arrangements now in hand between the British and French Governments in connection with the Channel Tunnel to continue." The two governments appointed a joint Committee of Surveillance and provided funds equivalent to approximately $5,000,000 for the survey recently completed by the Channel Tunnel Study Group. This progress was in part due to the efforts of the Channel Tunnel Parliamentary Committee, with a membership of nearly 200 representing all three political parties, which succeeded in removing the project from the arena of party strife. When a delegation from the Committee met with Prime Minister Wilson in August of the present year to recommend that preparations for construction be continued at an accelerated pace, the Prime Minister took a similar view.

In France, although a parliamentary committee has been in existence for several years, the decisive parliamentary document was the report made December 2, 1964, in the name of La Commission de la Production et des Changes, which stated that, if the project were privately financed no further parliamentary action would be required in France. After reviewing the considerations which led the two governments to prefer a railway tunnel to other solutions such as a bridge, a road tunnel, a combination of bridge and tunnel or a road and rail tunnel, the report concluded: "It is therefore desirable that the institutional, juridical and fiscal resources be made available to permit the promoters of the tunnel to assemble on the international capital markets the financial means appropriate to the work and thus to bring to the economy of Western Europe a new instrument for progress."


Geologically, the Straits of Dover are something of an anachronism. Until perhaps six thousand years ago, a land bridge intermittently connected the European Continent with Wealden England, and even today a continuous ribbon of "lower chalk," an ideal tunneling medium, underlies the turbulent but shallow water of what used to appear systematically on French maps as the "Canal de France."

The subaqueous geological link has been the object of juridical as well as geological investigation. Fortunately, under the terms of article 7 of the Continental Shelf Convention of 1958,[i] littoral states may tunnel along their shelves without becoming subject to the international jurisdiction traditionally reserved for activity in "the high seas." (Eventually, the Japanese, who are considering a tunnel across the Tsugaru Strait between Honshu and Hokkaido, may also be grateful for the foresight of the Convention's draftsmen.)

To carry out its mandate, the Channel Tunnel Study Group established a well- equipped headquarters within the Edwardian ramparts of Dover Castle. Storerooms were provided for the cores to be taken from the submarine strata, and up-to-date laboratories for the analysis of the samples. A communications headquarters permitted the Study Group's marine commandant to maintain constant contact with the rather vast and oddly constituted flotilla which, through more than a year, braved Channel gales to collect the information without which piercing the tunnel would be hazardous. More than sixty core-borings have confirmed in detail the continuity of the lower chalk indicated by the first program carried out by the Study Group with its own resources in 1958 and 1959. At that time it had secured the advice of M. Jean Goguel, director of the Carte Géologique de France, Professor John Bruckshaw of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, and Dr. William O. Smith of the U.S. Geological Survey, who was assigned to the Study Group by President Eisenhower. The work accomplished in the successive surveys of the Study Group has basically confirmed the accuracy of the geological maps drawn up by the French Geological Commission in 1876.

The geological investigations have involved the use of a diversified fleet, including L.S.T.s from World War II, drilling vessels such as the Terebel, borrowed from the French Institut de Pétrole, and offshore mobile platforms intercepted on their way to drilling assignments in the North Sea. To link up the physical evidence represented by the core samples, geophysical devices, developed by Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier, Inc., of Boston, were employed on an extensive scale. Careful profiles were made of the Channel bottom, and it is now confirmed that satisfactory routes exist for both a bored tunnel and an immersed tube. The immersed-tube proposal is to lay prefabricated sections towed to the site and placed in a trench dredged in the Channel bottom and covered with rock and gravel. Its feasibility has been demonstrated by such pioneering developments as the Hyperion Outfall, a giant sewer laid in depths of over 200 feet in the open sea opposite Los Angeles, California. The Channel operation would be carried out from offshore platforms supported on retractable stilts. These "walking" platforms would operate in pairs, the first dredging the trench in the sea bed and the second following and laying in it 500-foot lengths of concrete tubing, with walls up to four feet thick and with an outside diameter of more than 40 feet.

The two bored tunnels would be about 23 miles in length, reaching a maximum depth of some 160 feet below the sea bed in mid-Channel, through the lower chalk stratum. They would have an internal diameter of more than 20 feet with cross-passages and crossover rail junctions. A pilot tunnel of 10 feet 10 inches internal diameter might be driven between and ahead of the construction of the main tunnel to test the geological features and assist the construction work: when constructed, this would be used for maintenance, drainage and the carrying of telephone, telegraph and power lines.

Railway service through the tunnel would be very frequent from terminal to terminal, with electric train departures every five or ten minutes at peak periods and every 15 to 30 minutes during normal operations. There would be 24-hour service. Trains of gauges suitable for both the United Kingdom and the Continent would also provide a direct London-Paris and London-Brussels service.

The ease and efficiency of driving vehicles on and off flatwagons have been demonstrated at the St. Gotthard Tunnel and the Simplon Tunnel for many years. In these tunnels, the automobiles are driven onto the train by their drivers from one or two loading points and each vehicle follows the preceding vehicle along the length of the train. With the modern marshalling design proposed for the tunnel terminals, 150 cars could load from one loading point onto enclosed single-decked trains one-half mile in length, or 300 cars from two loading points onto enclosed double-decked trains, within 12 minutes. It would take three-quarters of an hour for a train to cover the 44 miles between the tunnel terminals; counting 20 minutes for loading and unloading, this makes a total of 65 minutes for the journey. As rights-of-way are improved and better locomotive equipment is provided, travel time between London and Paris may eventually be reduced to three hours or even less. Some scientists foresee the day when hovertrains, utilizing the air-cushion principle, may be capable of completing the trip between the two capital cities in one hour.


The Study Group which brought the project to its present stage of development has assembled a bankers' committee[ii] capable of tapping adequate private capital in the Western world, and in a manner consistent with the interests and requirements of the British and French Governments. That a project involving about half a billion dollars should have generated this confidence is due in part, no doubt, to the very great thoroughness with which studies of financial and economic considerations, as well as technical aspects, were conducted over a period of more than eight years. Equally important has been the character of the sponsors themselves. The Suez Canal Company assembled the decisive meeting which in July 1957 set up the Study Group. (Due to Disraeli's coup in purchasing the shares of the Khedive of Egypt in 1875, Her Majesty's Government remains the largest single shareholder in the Suez Financial Company.) Other members of the Group are the British and French tunnel companies, formed nearly a century ago and whose principal shareholders are, respectively, the British Railways Board and the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français; and Technical Studies, Inc., of New York. A small participation in the Group is held by the International Road Federation (Paris office) in order to assure suitable representation of road interests. A governing board, representing the companies participating in the Group, has joint Anglo-French chairmanship. Ambassador René L. D. Massigli has been French chairman since the Group's first meeting; since the death of Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, the British co-chairman has been Lord Harcourt.

The considerable array of talent cited is now settling, in consultation with the Anglo-French Joint Commission of Surveillance, a series of important questions as to the financial, legal and technical organization of the work. Informed opinion appears to be crystallizing in favor of a single international company, privately controlled, which would have sole responsibility, under appropriate governmental supervision, for finance and construction. Thereby it is hoped that the inefficiencies, delays and extra expenses resulting from the proliferation of authority so familiar in international ventures may be avoided.

Clearly, much depends on the ability of the governments and the Study Group to obtain valid offers to construct the tunnel at a fixed and guaranteed price. Two great consortia have expressed interest in tendering for the work on a basis which would not require the governments or the Study Group to face expenditures of unknown dimensions, in the event that the estimates of the consulting engineers, though made with care and prudence, should in fact be exceeded. The bored tunnel early attracted the interest of Morrison Knudsen Company, Inc., the Bechtel Corporation and Brown & Root, Inc. These United States companies, together with Wimpey of the United Kingdom (the leading contractor for the core-boring programs) and their continental partners, have the financial strength needed to secure performance bonds. The immersed tube was sponsored by Hyperion Constructors, the group of firms which carried out the California project, joined by Kaiser Engineers and Constructors, Inc., as well as by Richard Costain, Ltd. in the United Kingdom and Campenon Bernard in France.

Once the tunnel is in operation, the estimated total savings to users in Britain, France and other countries will be more than £100,000,000 during the first 15 years of operation. Railway passengers will be able to count on a slight reduction in fares and, more vitally, on a dependable all- weather crossing. Tourists accompanying cars will no longer have to queue up during the peak summer months, and the charges for accompanied vehicles will be cut. Merchandise will be carried between the coasts of England and France at half the cost charged by the present sea services. Moreover, a manufacturer in Birmingham or Manchester will be able to schedule rail shipments directly to, for instance, Antwerp or Dusseldorf, without the costly delays incidental to breaking bulk twice in mid-journey.

President Eisenhower, in an official Determination made in August 1958, found that a tunnel under the English Channel "would further the purposes of the Mutual Security Act and particularly the purpose of promoting trade and economic integration in Western Europe." The Concorde supersonic airliner is at the moment the most conspicuous example of Anglo-French technical coöperation; but it may yet be that "Chunnel" will have more far- reaching effects. With the United Kingdom joined to Continental Europe by a tunnel capable of providing passage for hundreds of thousands of people per day, and with international freight charges cut in half, discussions concerning such matters as the proper area for a common market may take place within a new and more promising dimension.

[i] This convention was ratified and entered into force on June 10, 1964. Twenty-two signatories were necessary. The U.S. Senate ratified by advise and consent on May 26, 1960, and the U.S. ratification was deposited April 12, 1961.

[ii] Viscount Harcourt, of Morgan, Grenfell & Co., Ltd.; Leo F. A. d'Erlanger, formerly of Philip Hill, Higginson & Erlangers, Ltd. (now Hill, Samuel & Co.); Jacques Getten, of de Rothschild Frères; Auguste Avon, of Banque de l'Union Parisienne; Jacques Georges-Picot, of Compagnie Financière de Suez; John M. Young, of Morgan Stanley & Co.; and Kingman Douglass, of Dillon, Read & Co., Inc.

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