The Day After Russia Attacks
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WHEN it was first proposed to construct a tunnel connecting England and France, the military aspect was given most attention. In spite of the fact that provision was made in the plans for flooding five miles of the tunnel from either end at a second's notice, high military authorities in England strongly objected to the scheme. But the ease with which Germany conducted air raids over London and other cities during the war showed that England's position was no longer impregnable behind the ramparts of surrounding seas. Accordingly it was realized that the economic advantages -- or disadvantages -- of the tunnel should receive first consideration. In April 1929 Prime Minister Baldwin appointed a Committee "to examine and report on the economic aspects of proposals for the construction of a Channel tunnel or other new form of cross-Channel communication."
In its report[i] the Committee condemns as unsatisfactory the various alternatives to a Channel railroad tunnel -- a cross-Channel passenger and freight train ferry; a tunnel for both automobile and railroad traffic; a bridge for both automobile and railroad traffic; a railroad tube across the bed of the sea; and a cross-Channel jetty. Two schemes for a Channel tunnel were laid before the Committee. One of them provided for the construction of the tunnel and also of an entirely new railroad from London to the coast and another from Paris to the coast; the estimates of this company were: $292,500,000 for the English section of railroad, $500,000,000 for the French section, and $154,000,000 for the tunnel proper. The Committee rejected this scheme because of its prohibitive costs.
The proposals of the English Channel Tunnel Company are quite different. This company, formed in 1872, favors tunneling through the gray chalk from Sangatte (between Boulogne and Calais) to Shakespeare's Cliff (between Dover and Folkestone), the point of greatest depth being 95 feet below the channel bed, or 260 feet below sea level. Such a tunnel would be 36 miles long -- 24 miles under the Straits of Dover and 32 miles of approach tunnels. (The Simplon Tunnel, the longest in the world, is 12 miles long.) The approach tunnel in England and the English half of the submarine tunnel would be constructed by the English Channel Tunnel Company, the other half of the construction to be done by the French Channel Tunnel Company, which holds a concession from the French Government enabling it to begin work at a moment's notice.
The tunnel would consist of two traffic tubes, each of a diameter of 18½ feet, and a 10-foot pilot tunnel for drainage and ventilation. Electricity to operate trains through the tunnel would be supplied from power stations at each end of the tunnel. Heretofore it has been assumed that the Chemin de Fer du Nord would insist upon the use of its larger loading gauge; but, since the broader and higher French cars are too big for the English railroad platforms, tunnels and bridges, the latest English proposals are based on the assumption that the steel cars to be used in the tunnel will conform to the British loading gauge.
There will be no insuperable geological difficulties in the construction of the tunnel if the chalk formation extends uninterruptedly across the Straits. The Committee is in favor of the construction of the pilot tunnel, which, if successful, will settle the question of the practicability of constructing the two traffic tunnels. The estimated cost of the preliminary or pilot tunnel is $28,000,000 and of the two traffic tunnels, about $125,000,000. The total cost would be divided equally between the English and French companies; the Committee favors construction by private enterprise, without state aid. The pilot tunnel could be constructed in two and a half years and the traffic tunnels in four and a half years.
The passage of a train through the tunnel would take about three quarters of an hour, as contrasted with an hour and a half for the present steamer crossing between Dover and Calais. Another three quarters of an hour would be saved if customs officials examined baggage on the train (as they often do on the Continent) instead of at the points of embarkation and disembarkation. This would shorten the trip from London to Paris -- now nearly eight hours -- by an hour and a half, and would therefore, it is believed, result in more passengers crossing the Channel to visit England or the Continent. The Committee estimates that the tunnel, if it is opened in 1938, will secure 2,357,000 passengers during the first year of its operation, and that the development of air services will not seriously interfere with the traffic prospects.
The movement of freight across the Channel is at present relatively unimportant, being confined almost entirely to perishable foodstuffs and goods of high value. Freight imported, exported, and reëxported via Dover, Folkestone, and Newhaven amounts to less than 3 percent of England's foreign trade. If this traffic remains the same in the future, construction of the proposed tunnel will bring but slight benefit to English trade. But the Committee argues that, as the development of communications during the past century resulted in great increases in the amount of traffic, so construction of the Channel tunnel will reap the benefit of increasing production and commerce in the future. The Committee believes that it could be built, maintained, and operated at a cost that would allow of freight and passenger rates not higher than those now in force in cross-Channel traffic.
The trades that might be adversely affected by the operation of a Channel tunnel are important, but they are not numerous and they represent but a small percentage of the trades and industries of the entire country. The agricultural producer in southeastern England, who fears the increased competition from the Continent, can improve his position by developing better methods of marketing his produce; furthermore, he has an initial advantage over his competitor in his proximity to the London market. Concerns operating trans-Channel cargo boats are threatened with the loss, partial or absolute, of their business; accordingly, the Committee recommends that careful consideration be given to their plight, both for their own sake and also for the reason that, if they are driven out of business, freight rates might rise because of lack of competition. The railroads hold that, while they may lose their trans-Channel boat and train traffic, they will benefit from the general growth of traffic resulting from the operation of the tunnel.
Construction and operation of the tunnel would have only slight effect on the labor market. About 250 men would be employed in the construction of the pilot tunnel, and about 1,550 men in the construction of the traffic tunnels. In addition, it is estimated that work on the pilot tunnel would indirectly provide employment for 750 men and on the main tunnels for 4,500 men. The number of laborers thrown out of work when the tunnel is opened would be relatively small.
The French public has always favored the construction of the tunnel. Marshal Foch in 1922 said of the project: "If the Channel tunnel had been built it might have prevented the war, and in any event it would have shortened its duration by one half."
In England, however, opinion has always been divided. Though Gladstone, John Bright, and Lord Salisbury favored the project, Joseph Chamberlain and the War Office opposed it. No British government thus far has supported it. The report of the Channel Tunnel Committee favors the project, but the dissenting minute of one member of the Committee and also some hostile press comment are indications that the plan is still subject to controversy. Prime Minister MacDonald recently informed Parliament that the Committee of Imperial Defense would be asked for its opinion of the report and that, as soon as the government had reached a decision, it would be communicated to the House of Commons.
In general, Conservative periodicals oppose the scheme while Liberal periodicals favor it. The Conservatives argue that, if the danger of invasion can be ruled out in a discussion of the tunnel, so can the necessity for the tunnel itself, for crossing the Channel today is a much easier and faster trip than it was when the project was first discussed. The only justification for constructing the tunnel, they continue, is unmistakable proof that it would add to England's comfort and prosperity, promote foreign trade, and relieve unemployment -- and this is not found in the report. The Liberals reply that this attitude is founded on prejudice and opposition to progress. Furthermore, they suggest that, as imports from the Continent now exceed exports via the Channel, the railroads might offer especially attractive rates to English exporters in order to fill freight cars that would otherwise return empty to the Continent. The Committee's report may not be so enthusiastic as to persuade conservative people to invest money in the project, but, as one writer suggests, the romance and glamor of adventure in it might well attract a number of investors.
So far we have considered only the material aspects: what about the spiritual results of constructing the tunnel? By putting an end forever to the tourist's terror of a rough Channel crossing, the tunnel should encourage visitors to England from foreign lands. Traveling Americans, it is argued, most of whom visit Paris, will be more inclined to include England in their tour of Europe; and the French, who are not fond of crossing the sea, will become more familiar with their neighbor. Thus a better Anglo-French understanding, and probably a better understanding of Great Britain by foreigners generally, might result if the project ever materialized.
A. S. V. S.
[i] Published March 14, 1930. Cmd. 3513.