Channel Tunnel celebrates 30th birthday

Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The Channel Tunnel is celebrating 30 years since it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

The 31-mile structure, opened on 6 May 1994, connecting Folkestone in Kent, with Calais, northern France, for the first time.

It's estimated about 480 million passengers have used the service since it opened.

Queen Elizabeth II and then president Francois Mitterrand of France cut the ribbon to officially open the Channel tunnel Credit: Tim Ockenden/PA

Construction work began in December 1987, with 11 huge boring machines cutting through eight million cubic metres of chalk marl to create the tunnel.

More than 13,000 workers from both France and England worked on the project, which took six years to build.

The Queen and Mr Mitterrand officially opened the tunnel 30 years ago by travelling in a Eurotunnel train to Folkestone.

Peter Woodman, who reported on the event for the PA news agency, said the tunnel was “considered a tremendous feat of engineering”.

He went on: “As far as the story was concerned, it was about the twinning of England and France.

“It wasn’t just our triumph. It was a European thing.”

Thirty years on, an international rail travel expert has called for Eurostar to face direct competition.

Mark Smith, founder of international train travel website, said having a second company operating passenger train services to the continent could lead to lower fares and new destinations.

Eurostar holds a monopoly in running passenger services through the tunnel

But Mr Smith said there are “people waiting in the wings to compete”.

Spanish start-up company Evolyn is aiming to launch services through the tunnel next year, while billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is reportedly also developing a rival operation.

Mr Smith said: “I love Eurostar’s service but competition keeps everyone on their toes and it certainly keeps prices down.

“That I think is the important thing at the moment.

Eurostar’s routes to and from the UK are limited to between London St Pancras and Paris, Brussels, Lille, Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

Margaret Thatcher with French President Francois Mitterrand when the Channel Fixed Link Treaty was signed Credit: Archive/PA

Eurotunnel infrastructure director Dan Hughes has worked for the company in various roles throughout the tunnel’s existence.

Thirty years ago, he was responsible for attempting to keep the media in a specified position on a platform at Folkestone when the heads of state arrived.

He recalled how photographers ignored his instructions in an attempt to “get the best shot”, adding: “It was chaos, but a fun memory.”

Mr Hughes, who became a crew member when commercial services began, said many passengers had “anxieties” about travelling under the Channel before their first journey.

“People at the time expected to look out the window and see a fish,” he said.

“That was kind of the feeling, it was the unknown.”

He added: “Everything was all fresh, brand new and shiny.

“It was a fantastic time to work here. It almost wasn’t a job.

“We had so much fun.”