Top Gear drives the Channel Tunnel
Chris Froome has just cycled through, but we were the first in a production car...
Posted: 07 Jul 2014
After the usual protocol - follow the motorway to Folkestone, peel off for the check-in booths - we're ushered down a side road before driving through a square hole in the wall. But we're blocked by thick, yellow steel doors. They swing open with a hiss, and we drive into an airlock chamber. It's like a Bond villain's bunker, all pipes and valves, with chevrons on the walls. The doors clunk shut before another set opens in front. My ears pop as the pressure jumps up.
When they started building the tunnels in 1988, the service road was the first to probe a route through the prehistoric chalk, running about a mile ahead of the other two. But it wasn't the first time someone tried to dig their way to the Continent. That honour goes to some ambitious Victorians who imagined ponies pulling carts through a damp shaft, coming up for air somewhere in the middle of the Channel. They got as far as Dover pier before giving up. The idea was then continually debated for the next hundred or so years. Some feared invasions. Others calculated that if a link existed during wartime - to ferry troops and kit - it would've shortened the length of WWII by up to two years. Finally, a plan was agreed, and the 31.4-mile tunnel (23.5 miles of which is sub-aqua - making it the longest undersea section of a tunnel in the world) was completed in 1994.