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Bechtel’s Impact Report

Channel Tunnel (Chunnel)

channel tunnel construction

Realizing the dream of a fixed English-Channel crossing

The Channel Tunnel runs some 32 miles (51 kilometers) from a terminal near Folkestone on the English side to Calais in France. And, considering that the tunnel actually comprises three tunnels (one for travel in each direction with a service tunnel in between), crews undertook a lot more than 32 miles (51 kilometers) of tunneling…closer to a hundred (around 155 kilometers). 

The privately financed project, which ultimately cost $14.7 billion, has made possible 500 undersea train trips a day at speeds reaching nearly 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour.

Getting the Chunnel build back on track

The project to build the undersea leg between England and France began in earnest in 1986. But as work progressed, the owner, Eurotunnel, and the Anglo-French consortium responsible for design and construction, TransManche Link, were plagued by severe cost, schedule, and safety problems. By 1990, many feared that the project would never be completed.

Bechtel’s involvement began in 1987, a year after the project got the green light, by filling a key management role with a lone seconded executive. When it became clear that the project was at risk, Eurotunnel called on Bechtel to get the project back on track. Bechtel helped manage the project to its successful completion in 1994, providing management, technical, and construction expertise, which helped restore the trust of investors and financial institutions.

"The year 1990 proved pivotal in the turnaround of a once-beleaguered project. Our project team dug some 48 miles (77 kilometers) of tunnel—a world record."

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Bringing Britain and mainland Europe closer together

For travelers and the haulage industry, the Channel Tunnel has been a boon, dramatically shortening travel time between London and Paris. The trip got even faster in 2007, when service began on High Speed 1, a high-speed rail line connecting the tunnel to central London―also a Bechtel project. In 2013, a record 20.4 million passengers rode the rails between Britain and France. Passengers and freight can travel beyond France, all the way to Brussels.

Key facts about the world's longest undersea tunnel

  • The first proposal to build a tunnel linking England and France dates to 1802.
  • The Chunnel connects Folkestone in Kent, England, with Coquelles in Pas-de-Calais, France.
  • The Channel Tunnel comprises two rail tunnels and one service tunnel, each 32 miles (51 kilometers) in length.
  • The undersea portion is nearly 24 miles (38 kilometers) long.
  • The project team used 11 giant, laser-guided tunnel-boring machines

State-of-the-art fire protection

In addition to powerful and flexible ventilation and communications systems, there are:

  • Electrical equipment chambers with fireproof doors, smoke detectors, and fire-extinguishing systems
  • Train cars with ultraviolet and opacity smoke detectors as well as foam and halon extinguishing systems—along with doors that provide 30-minute fire protection
  • Fire hydrants either side of every cross passage, positioned every quarter-mile (375 meters)
  • A fleet of professionally staffed fire-fighting vehicles

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