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1964: Green light for Channel Tunnel

The British and French Governments have announced their commitment to build a tunnel under the English Channel.

Both countries now have the capital and technical skills to bring the project - first mooted 162 years ago - to life but their official statements do not give a definite timetable.

British Transport Minister Ernest Marples told the House of Commons: "It remains to be decided when and how best the expense involved can be sustained."

The scheme - first proposed by Napoleon as an invasion strategy - has the keen support of French President Charles de Gaulle.

Precise details of design, engineering and financing still need to be confirmed, but the Channel Tunnel is most likely to be a twin-tunnelled rail link, costing at least 160m and taking five years to build.

Halving the cost

Mr Marples has warned there may be no role for private investors in such a prestigious development.

It took two months to draft the governments' statements based on the reports of a study group investigating an Anglo-French tunnel published last September.

Manager of the Channel Tunnel Company Leo D'Erlanger said the new route would provide a much cheaper way of travelling across the channel.

He said: "For a motor car with a passenger it will be about 30 per cent less than the cheapest method today and for passengers it will be five per cent less."

He added that transporting merchandise would be half the cost.

British Rail (BR) has welcomed the plans, which would fulfil Dr Beeching's vision for expanding the rail network as economically as possible.

Transport experts estimate the extra commercial and passenger traffic on cross-channel trains could provide BR with an extra 1m a year and save around 2m on existing operating costs.

Road haulage groups have expressed the strongest objections, as more freight would be transferred to rail.

But the British Government thinks they and the Channel ports, which will also be affected, will have enough time to adjust their businesses whilst construction is completed over several years.

Opposition MPs have questioned the timing of the government's announcements after recent fluctuations in the share prices of the Channel Tunnel Company and with a general election looming.

In Context
It took another thirty years for cost-effective technology to catch up with the politicians' vision.

In November 1984 the British and French governments announced they would seek private sector investment for the fixed link without public funding.

Eurotunnel was selected to build the link and French and British foreign ministers signed a treaty in Canterbury to finalise the venture in February of that year.

The Channel Tunnel finally opened, a year late, in 1994, leaving Eurotunnel with debts of 925m a year later.

By 1999 Eurotunnel declared its first net profit.

It was voted the best construction achievement of the 20th century in a survey of 400 engineers in March 1999.

Chunnel statistics


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