12 Things You Didn't Know About Eurostar

By Spencer Hart on at

One of our greatest civil engineering projects, Eurostar, turned 20 years old on Tuesday. Although it doesn't look a day older than 18, the train line has an interesting, chequered history. So, train fans, engineering fanatics and proud Brits: read on to learn 12 things you didn't know about Eurostar.


1.) When the tunnel first opened, Queen Elizabeth II met President Mitterrand nose-to-nose in Calais

Queen Lizzie boarded the train at London Waterloo and travelled under the English Channel to Calais; she arrived at the same time as President Mitterrand who travelled from Paris Gard du Nord. The locomotives met nose to nose at the station. The heads of state simultaneously cut red, white and blue ribbons while both national anthems were played. The computer which prevents two trains travelling on the same track had to be switched off for the occasion. [Image Credit: Ads of the World]


2.) The Tunnel is the first physical connection between Britain and France for 8,000 years

Around 10,000 years ago, the Irish Sea, North Sea and English Channel were low-lying dry land making Britain a peninsula of Europe. These plains were slowly being lost to rising sea levels but in around 6,100 BC, a landslide in Norway caused a giant tsunami (one of the largest in history) which isolated Britain from the rest of Europe. [Image Credit: National Geographic]


3.) Ready for some numerical facts?

For over 11 years engineers worked more than 100 million hours; removing 530 million cubic feet of earth, placing five million sleepers, laying 310 miles of rail and 185 miles of communication cables. The tunnels run under 2,600 properties and 600 gas, water and sewerage pipes. Engineers used ten pumps to remove millions of gallons of water in front of the tunnellers. But they're not all big numbers though: the train threads between the QE2 Bridge and Dartford tunnel with a distance of just 75cm between the train and the road. [Image Credit: Telling Information]


4.) It's leaking... money

In 1987 the high-speed rail link was expected to cost £4.7 billion, eleven years later its total cost was actually closer to £10 billion. Original predictions were that the service would reach 21.4 million passengers annually by 2004, the figure actually reached was 7.3 million, a long way off initial predictions. In 2006 Eurotunnel was nearing bankruptcy but it was saved at the last minute by funding from several large banks. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


5.) The Channel Tunnel has survived three fires

In 1996, 2006 and 2008 trains carrying both HGVs and passengers caught alight. The original plan was to carry on in the event of a fire, passengers would move into the undamaged part of the train, which could then be detached and driven out of the tunnel safely. After the 1996 fire this policy was changed to evacuate passengers as fast as possible, moving them into the service tunnel which runs between the two train tunnels. The fire in 2008 was the largest, lasting for six hours and reaching temperatures of 1000°C. [Image Credit: Tunnel Talk]


6.) Eurostar is a record breaker

Eurostar holds several engineering and land speed records. The Channel Tunnel is the world's longest undersea tunnel and the second longest train tunnel. In 2006 the train broke the 'longest non-stop high-speed journey' record, travelling a distance of 883 miles from London to Cannes in a time of 7 hours and 25 minutes. The train also broke the British speed record in 2003 with a speed of 208 mph. When travelling at 185 mph the human eye cannot read ordinary train signals so a new radio-controlled system was installed, which displays warnings on a computer in the cab. [Image Credit: EuropeBlog]


7.) You can ride the train for free, but obviously you shouldn't because it's extremely dangerous... and illegal

Daily Mail readers will be shocked to hear that asylum seekers are able to stowaway on the Eurostar trains. In 2008 nine people, including a three-year-old and two pregnant women were found underneath a train in Waterloo Station. The refugees were able to climb inside a three-foot gap in an aerodynamic section between the wheels of the train. [Image Credit: Telegraph]


8.) Feeling claustrophobic?

In 2009 four trains broke down while inside the Channel Tunnel due to cold weather. A total of 2,000 passengers were affected, lucky ones were evacuated to shuttle trains but the less fortunate were stranded in the tunnels over night without power, food or water. [Image Credit: 4Rail]


9.) You dig from your end, we'll dig from ours and we'll meet in the middle... right?

If a compass doesn't work due to magnetic ore and GPS can't function underground, how do you know you're digging in the right direction? The person who was responsible for making sure the English and French met in the middle was German Max Schuler. In 1921 Schuler invented a gyrotheodolite which uses the rotation of the Earth to calculate direction. The two engineers who first met in the tunnel were Frenchman Philippe Cozette and Englishman Graham Fagg. Graham and Philippe didn't actually meet in the middle of the Channel due to engineering problems on the French side of the tunnel, allowing the English to dig further. When they did meet, the two tunnels were just 300 millimetres off course. [Image Credit: CCE]

10.) All of the boring machines had female names

Seven tunnel-boring machines were used to drill the Channel Tunnel and each was given the name of a woman. The machines were sometimes named after an engineer's wife or local school. [Image Credit: TunnelTalk]


11.) During construction a rehousing programme was established for 100 dormice

As well as being a carbon neutral way to travel to Paris, the construction of the train track was also environmentally friendly. There were 1.2 million trees and 19 miles of hedgerow planted along the track, 78 artificial roosts made for bats, eight new amphibian ponds created, artificial badger sets were dug and the company started a rehousing programme for 100 hazel dormice. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


12.) It's very quick, but not as quick as an Aston Martin DB9

Starting at the Top Gear Dunsfold Studio, Jeremy Clarkson drove an Aston Martin DB9 to Monte Carlo, racing James May and Richard Hammond who had to take the bus, Eurostar and walk. The show was edited to make the race appear extremely close but May later revealed in an interview that Clarkson actually beat them by almost an hour. [Image Credit: Torque Report]

[Featured Image Credit: Eurostar from Shutterstock]