The Channel Tunnel Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary

Getlink and its subsidiary Eurotunnel are celebrating 30 years since the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994.

In doing so, the company is acknowledging those who have contributed to the success of the project, as well as those who are continuing to shape the future of passenger, freight and energy transport between the UK, France and continental Europe.

This comes at a time when the need to decarbonise trade is particularly highlighted, and Getlink asserts that the Channel Tunnel will be a key accelerator in this mission.

The Channel Tunnel has been operation since 1994
The Channel Tunnel has been operation since 1994

The History of the Channel Tunnel

The Channel Tunnel was inaugurated on 6 May 2024, with the first shuttle carrying Queen Elizabeth II and the President of the French Republic, François Mitterrand between France and the UK.

The tunnel spans 50 kilometres and includes the world’s longest underwater segment at 37 kilometres long.

Throughout history, over 139 Channel Tunnel projects have been explored. These date back to the early 19th century, with initial test tunnels commencing in 1874. This led to the realisation of the structure that is used today.

At its time of construction, over 13,000 tunnel workers were recruited from both France and the UK. Eurotunnel now employs 2,600 people, including 400 who have been with the company since 1994.

Jacques Gounon, Chairman of Getlink, said:

“The Channel Tunnel, whose 30th anniversary we are celebrating today, is an exceptional human adventure that has revolutionised relations between Europe and Great Britain. Already ahead of its time when it was inaugurated, it is still incredibly modern, offering millions of people and goods the possibility of crossing the Channel very quickly while respecting the environment. This success has been made possible by the visionaries who designed it, the investors who financed it, the builders who built it, and the employees who operate it every day. With all of them, Eurotunnel has entered the history books.”

Recent Upgrades

Over the last 30 years, half a billion passengers have used the Channel Tunnel. The structure also facilitates trade, which now accounts for 25 percent of the value of goods crossing between the UK and France.

On average, this high-traffic infrastructure carries one train every 4 minutes, or 400 trains a day. These trains travel at varying speeds: 160 km/h for the high-speed trains, 140 km/h for the LeShuttle shuttles operated by Eurotunnel and 120 km/h for the national rail freight trains.

In recent years, the tunnel has also attracted interest from rail operators wishing to launch new services between the UK and continental Europe. To prepare for future growth and ensure equal access to the Tunnel, Getlink has invested in a new power supply system, which will allow traffic to increase by up to 1,000 trains per day.

Getlink’s additional initiatives to enhance operations include the simplification of administrative formalities. Now that goods are again subject to Customs controls following Brexit, Eurotunnel has developed a paperless system for transferring data between the British and French customs services.

What’s more, by anticipating passenger flows using a digital twin, Eurotunnel is able to guarantee crossing times through the EU’s Entry-Exit System (EES).

80 million EUR has also been invested in the Folkestone and Coquelles terminals to create dedicated vehicle spaces, modify the existing infrastructure, and implement the biometric controls required for third-country nationals entering and leaving the EU.

Future Develpment

Looking forwards, Eurotunnel now aims to double the number of direct high-speed links from London via the Channel Tunnel over the next 10 years. This could include services between London and Cologne, London and Frankfurt, London and Zurich and London and Geneva.

To prepare for this development, Eurotunnel has already commenced work on aligning the relevant players, including rolling stock manufacturers and rail network and station managers in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.

Yann Leriche, Chief Executive Officer of Getlink, said:

“We have come a long way in the last 30 years and I would like to pay tribute to the Tunnel's designers and builders who, as true visionaries, designed an infrastructure that is unique in the world. Today, we are looking to the future, which we embrace with enthusiasm, because the Channel Tunnel and its 2,600 employees, whose daily commitment to serving our customers I salute, still harbour so much potential. The importance of the vital link between the United Kingdom and the European continent has been reaffirmed more than ever, and its role in decarbonising trade in Europe makes it an exceptionally modern structure.”

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