An Insider’s View of the Channel Tunnel

Susan Morgan

On Saturday the eighteenth of April, a large party of members and their guests met at the Auberge de la Rose, at Doué-la-Fontaine. Our speaker, Alain Bertrand, was "Directeur Général de la Circulation Ferroviaire" from 2005 until his retirement.

Alain gave a fascinating talk about the planning and construction of the channel tunnel. Of course, people have always needed to traverse this arm of the sea. We were given a résumé of notable channel crossings by sea, various invasions from both sides down the centuries, and also diplomatic endeavours which allowed François 1st and Henry 8th to enjoy a face to face discussion.

When France and Britain finally found the resolution to construct a tunnel, a considerable clash of ideologies was revealed. Britain took a ‘not a public penny’ stance, while France preferred ‘les grands projects français’ approach. It was not just the engineering work that would entail digging into the unknown.

Indeed, the engineering, the finance, and the setting up of the organisation Eurotunnel to manage the project, entailed breaking new ground. From the start, the conception was of a rail tunnel that would also carry shuttles for road vehicles. Safety in use, including fire prevention and speed of evacuation, were important factors in the design. The costs of construction meant that Eurotunnel carried a huge deficit into the nineties, and no dividend was paid until the year two thousand and two.

The question session that followed ranged across many factors, from construction methods and national security, to the possibility of wild animals getting into the tunnel.

After lunch, everyone took their leave with the feeling that it had been an enjoyable and stimulating meeting.