The Channel Tunnel is a large tunnel which runs between Britain and France, under the Strait of Dover in the English Channel. It is also affectionately referred to as the Chunnel or Eurotunnel, and in French it is known as Le Tunnel Sous la Manche. Travel through the Channel Tunnel on a high-speed train takes around 20 minutes, and bypasses the sometimes inclement weather of the English Channel to deposit passengers safely on the other side.
In fact, there are three tunnels in the Channel Tunnel; two tunnels for trains, and a central access tunnel used for maintenance access and as an emergency escape route. The tunnel carries passengers and freight in high speed trains, and it also offers a special shuttle service on oversized trains which can accommodate vehicles. To use the shuttle service, people drive directly onto the train and secure their vehicles for the trip under the Channel.
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Proposals to build an access tunnel under the English Channel date back to the 1800s, but construction on the Channel Tunnel didn't begin until 1988. Workers on the tunnel faced a number of engineering problems as they had to deal with geological irregularities and the sheer amount of work involved in constructing a 31.4 mile (around 50 kilometer) long tunnel underground. The tunnel had to be sturdy enough to withstand years of use as well as being well ventilated, and the engineers also wanted to allay concerns about the risk of fires in the tunnel with state of the art safety mechanisms, including the central escape tunnel.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has called the Channel Tunnel one of the seven wonders of the modern world, and as of 2008, it is the second longest tunnel in the world. It certainly streamlined and revolutionized travel between Britain and France, smoothing the way for visitors from both nations to travel rapidly and easily. Tickets are readily available for passengers who want to travel on the Eurostar passenger trains which service the Chunnel through Eurostar and various authorized agents.
It took six years for the Channel Tunnel to be completed, and the safety systems were tested only two years later, when a fire broke out in 1996. The tunnel attracted a great deal of criticism, due to the fact that the construction ran heavily over budget, and many Europeans were concerned that the tunnel would not be able to turn enough of a profit to justify its construction. It has also proved to be an issue with immigration officials, as it has been used by asylum seekers to illegally enter Britain.