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What is the Chunnel?

The Channel Tunnel (often called the 'Chunnel' for short) is an undersea tunnel linking southern England and northern France. It is operated by the company Getlink, who also run a railway shuttle (Le Shuttle) between Folkestone and Calais, carrying passengers in cars, vans and other vehicles.

Eurostar is a totally separate company and is Getlink’s biggest customer, running high-speed passenger services through the Channel Tunnel between London and a number of other European cities on the continent, including Paris, Brussels, Lille, Lyon, Avignon and Marseille.

The Chunnel actually comprises three tunnels: two rail tunnels, used for freight and passenger trains, and a service tunnel.

How long is the Channel Tunnel?

The Channel Tunnel is 31.5 miles long or 50.45 km. That's the equivalent of 169 Eiffel Towers stacked on top of each other.

23.5 miles (37.9 km) of the Channel Tunnel is under the English Channel, making it the world's longest undersea tunnel.

What year did the Channel Tunnel open?

The idea of a tunnel under the Channel was first proposed in 1802 but construction wasn't started until 1988. It was completed in 1993, and Eurostar services started in November 1994.

What does the Eurotunnel look like underwater?

This may be a disappointing answer, but you can't actually see the sea from the Eurostar. When you go through the tunnel and look out of the window, all you can see is your reflection in the glass because it's quite dark outside. You can catch glimpses of the walls of the tunnel, of course, which are made of reinforced concrete.

Where is the Channel Tunnel?

The Channel Tunnel runs between Calais in northern France and Folkestone in south Kent. Vehicle traffic for Le Shuttle gets on in Calais and gets off in  Folkestone. Calais is about three hour's drive from Paris and Folkestone is about an hour and a half's drive from London.

Our passenger only Eurostar trains, leave from St Pancras International station in London (some services also take on passengers in Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent) and go directly to the centre of Paris, Brussels and the other Eurostar destinations in Europe. Where’s next on your list of top city break destinations? Or are you planning a longer European jaunt?   

How deep is the Channel Tunnel?

At its deepest, the tunnel is 75 metres (246 feet) below the sea level. That's the same as 107 baguettes balancing on top of each other.

The English Channel is much deeper than the tunnel, with its deepest point measuring 175 meters (574 feet) below sea level.

How was the Channel Tunnel built?

The Channel Tunnel is made of three separate tunnels running parallel to each other. One train tunnel running south (UK to France), one train tunnel running north (France to UK) and one service tunnel. All three tunnels were drilled below the seabed and link Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles in Pas-de-Calais.

However, the idea of connecting the UK and France by tunnel is much older than people think – dating back to the early 1800s when its supporters included Napoleon Bonaparte.

Work on experimental tunnels started back in 1880 at Abbot’s Cliff near Folkestone, Kent. Many of the workers used hand tools, but a state-of-the-art boring machine was also used. Work was eventually abandoned until construction on the tunnel as we now know it began again in 1988.

Frequently asked questions

Thinking of hopping on Eurostar for your next European adventure? Got a couple of need-to-know questions before you book your trip? Here we’ve answered a selection of the most frequently asked questions from our customers.

Who can travel through the Channel Tunnel?

Foot passengers can travel with Eurostar, between our UK stations (London St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet International in north Kent, or Ashford International in south Kent) and our stations on the continent . People who want to travel with their own vehicle or on a coach can use the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle between Folkestone and Calais. Before travelling with either Eurostar or Eurotunnel you will need to go through security, border and ticket checks before going through the Tunnel.

How much did it cost to build the Channel Tunnel?

It took just under six years and 13,000 workers to build the Channel Tunnel. The total cost came at an eye-watering £4.65 billion which would be the equivalent of £12 billion in today's money.

Why travel with Eurostar rather than drive?

  • Avoid the stress of driving, with direct high-speed journeys to top destinations, from city centre to city centre.
  • Great value fares with no additional costs like fuel, road tolls and parking.
  • Simple connections with other rail services in Europe, allowing you to go beyond our direct destinations on a single booking.
  • Travel in style on our comfortable trains, including our new, state-of-the art trains with wi-fi.

How fast does the Eurostar go?

The Eurostar travels through the Channel Tunnel at a speed of 100 miles per hour (160kph) although when the train is outside the tunnel it reaches speed of 186 miles per hour (300 kph)

5 crazy ways to cross the Channel

We’re not the only ones to make the journey across the channel. While we prefer our journeys comfortable, relaxing and underground through the Euro Tunnel, a few dare devils have travelled in slightly different ways. The Channel Tunnel or in the air, on the water or in a bathtub? You decide.  

  • 1. Swimming

    On 25 August 1874, Captain Matthew Webb became the first person to swim across the Channel from England to France. He first attempted the crossing on 12 August 1874, but had to give up due to strong winds and rough seas. Undeterred, he tried for a second time 12 days later. Escorted by three boats and covered in porpoise oil, he reached Calais in 21 hours 45 minutes, despite challenging tides and a jellyfish sting. American swimmer Sarah Thomas raised the bar in September 2019, setting a world record by becoming the first person to swim across the Channel four times non-stop. She completed her incredible swim in 54 hours and 10 minutes.

  • 2. In a wingsuit

    On 31 July 2003, Felix Baumgartner jumped from a plane 30,000 feet (9100 meters) above Dover wearing a carbon wing and flew for 22 miles (35.5 km) at a top speed of 220 mph (350 km). Six minutes later he landed in France and became the first man to cross the channel in a wing suit. He told the journalists shortly after landing "For the last 2,000 meters I could see the other side and I knew I was going to make it".

  • 3. By bathtub

    On 17 May 2007, the comedian Tim Fitz Higham became the first man to row across the Channel in... a bathtub. Tim first attempted this incredible challenge in 2004 but was forced to abandon when he was caught in a storm with force 6 winds. Before attempting the crossing, Tim had to learn to row and trained with the Britain's Olympic rowing team. Tim completed the grueling journey in nine hours and six minutes. On his arrival, he told journalists "You can't fake rowing; you can either do it or you can't. It's exhausting. Because you're using so much energy, and every area of your body, your heart and lungs are working overtime."

  • 4. By waterski

    On 12 March 2010, The One Show presenter Christine Bleakley water-skied across the English Channel and completed the 21-mile (34 km) stretch in just 100 minutes. Despite being terrified by water and admitting she wasn't a strong swimmer She became the first person to water-ski across the world's busiest shipping lane. She raised thousands of pounds for Sport Relief in the process and, after finishing the challenge, said "I can't believe I've actually done it. It was really tough."

  • 5. By balloon

    On 28 May 2010, Jonathan Trappe crossed the Channel strapped to 54 industrial strength helium balloons. Jonathan started his incredible journey from a field, near Ashford, and became the first cluster-balloonist to cross the English Channel. The 36-year-old adventurer drifted in the air for four hours before landing in a French cabbage field narrowly escaping death after avoiding a power line. After landing Mr Trappe, said: "The flight was outstanding, but it was a hell of a landing. I'm tremendously proud. It's an outstanding thing to do."

  • 6. By hovercraft

    On 04 August 2019, Frenchman Franky Zapata became the first man to cross the Channel by jet-powered hoverboard. He jetted off from Sangatte in the Pas de Calais region of France bright and early in the morning and landed in St Margaret’s Bay, just beyond the white cliffs of Dover, to rapturous applause from well-wishers. Travelling at speeds of up to 110 mph (177 km/h) between 15 and 20 metres above the water, Franky completed his crossing in just 22 minutes. It was his second attempt at the journey – his first ended when he plunged into the sea while trying to land on a vessel to refuel mid-flight. Despite losing two fingers during his hoverboard’s maiden flight in his garage, Franky was undeterred from his unusual attempt.

Image credits: © Shutterstock; © Shutterstock; © Eurostar