Work begins on the Channel Tunnel

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Work begins on the Channel Tunnel

Dover, Kent The 17th of December 1988 AD

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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