The Channel Tunnel: "the building site of the century"
Technological wizardry, historic handshakes and catastrophe on the stock exchange: all have marked the history of the Channel Tunnel, the busy rail link between Britain and mainland Europe, which was inaugurated two decades ago.
- February 12, 1986: The treaty of Canterbury launching the construction of the tunnel under the Channel is signed in the presence of then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and French president Francois Mitterrand.
The result of a 200-year-old dream nurtured by both nations, the project involves a 50.5-kilometre (30-mile) link, the world's longest under water.
- November, 1987: Eurotunnel, the company entrusted with building the tunnel, enters the stock exchange. Hundreds of thousands of small investors in France and Britain rush to buy what are presented as safe investments.
Britain and France had agreed in 1986 that state aid would not be used for the tunnel.
- December 15, 1987: A tunneller starts to dig on the British side, in the direction of France. Digging on the French side starts in February 1988.
- December 1, 1990: A British and French workman knock down the last wall separating the two countries. The British workman, dressed in orange overalls with a yellow helmet and the French worker dressed in khaki and white helmet exchange a "bonjour" and a "welcome", to cheers.
- May 6, 1994: Inauguration of the tunnel by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Mitterrand at 100 metres (328 feet) below sea level. Dubbed by locals "the building site of the century" the tunnel was built at a cost of 100 billion francs (15.2 billion euros, $21 billion), double what was forecast.
From 1994, Eurotunnel shares begin a long downward spiral, crippled by the group's debts and unattainable traffic forecasts.
- November 14, 1994: The first Eurostar high-speed train service for fare-paying passengers runs through the tunnel. The Paris-London journey takes three hours and six minutes -- 20 minutes of which are spent in the tunnel -- while the London-Brussels run takes three hours and fifteen minutes.
- November 26, 1997: Banks reach a financial restructuring plan, which transforms part of the colossal debt into shares. Eurotunnel thus avoids going into liquidation.
- April 7, 2004: Eurotunnel shareholders, who have lost most of their investments, vote to oust the board of the troubled operator, the first time individual investors have toppled the management of a major listed company in French history.
- September 11, 2008: a 1,000-degree inferno destroys part of the tunnel and limits its capacity for nearly five months.
- March 4, 2009: Eurotunnel announces that it will pay for the first time in its history a dividend, of 0.04 euros per share, to its some 400,000 shareholders.
- January 22, 2014: Eurotunnel says it achieved one billion euros in turnover in 2013 for the first time. More than 20 million travellers have used the tunnel in 2013, and nearly 325 million since it opened.
© 2014 AFP