Work begins on the Channel Tunnel
Tunnelling work started on the English end of the Channel Tunnel on December 17 1988, in fact a little after the French began from their side. But then the French had always seemed keener on the project – their Senate passed the necessary legislation to enable work to begin in June 1987; in Britain royal assent was given in July that year. But our engineers did dig 84km of tunnels compared to the French 69km; and we employed six of the giant TBMs (tunnel boring machines), whereas the French used only five; and the best week’s excavation by British workers saw 426m progress; the French record was 322m. Sadly one record we cannot be proud of is that the British workforce lost eight men in the six years of digging; the French only two.
The Channel Tunnel is an amazing achievement, though in financial terms it has since proved to be a less than sparkling success: no wonder, given that the creation of the tunnel ended with an 80 per cent cost over-run. The sheer scale of the project takes some comprehending: enough rubble to make three of the great Cheops Pyramid in Egypt was excavated; on the English side this amounted to 4 million cubic metres of chalk, which had to be found a home – thus the UK gained 90 acres of land as it was dumped off Shakespeare Cliff in Kent, an area now landscaped and used as a park.
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