The Channel Tunnel - interesting facts

  • Things to do
  • France
  • 20 MAR 2024
  • 5 min read
The Channel Tunnel - interesting facts

How long is it? How fast do the trains go? When was it opened? Find out all you need to know about the Channel Tunnel.

Every day since 1994 LeShuttle (formerly known as Eurotunnel Le Shuttle) has run services through the Channel Tunnel, taking passengers and freight from Folkestone to Calais in a journey time of just 35 minutes. What is even more remarkable is the tunnel itself, an engineering achievement that many people consider a wonder of the modern world.

Everything you always wanted to know about the Channel Tunnel (including does it leak?*) 

Well, maybe not everything, but from the tunnel’s origins in the early 1800s, to the way it was built, how many vehicles have travelled through it, to some of its more unusual passengers, you’ll emerge the other side with lots of interesting Channel Tunnel facts

*And yes, it does leak actually. The tunnel is designed to. Water naturally permeates down from the material above the tunnel and is then pumped away. The water is a mixture of groundwater and seawater, collected at six drainage stations along the course of the tunnel. 

The tunnel is lined with some of the strongest concrete in the world

What is the Chunnel?  

The tunnel that LeShuttle uses is officially called the Channel Tunnel, but you might know it as ‘The Chunnel’, which is how it was often referred to while it was being built and in its early years of operation. It is also sometimes known as the Eurotunnel, which was part of our brand name until 2023. LeShuttle and the Channel Tunnel are owned and operated by a company called Getlink. Eurostar passenger trains also run through the Channel Tunnel. 

How does the Channel Tunnel measure up?

How long is the Channel Tunnel?

The Channel Tunnel is 32 miles (50.5 km) long between our two terminals in Folkestone and Calais. The undersea section is 25 miles (38 km) long, making it the longest undersea tunnel in the world. 

How deep is the Channel Tunnel?

The Channel Tunnel is 75 metres below sea level at its deepest point.

The history of the Channel Tunnel

French and British tunnellers meet in December 1990

Who first had the idea of a Channel Tunnel?

There had been talk of a tunnel linking France and England since the early 19th century. It was suggested to Napoleon by a French mining engineer, Albert Mathieu-Favier, and would have used oil lamps to light the way of horse-drawn carriages. Numerous schemes were subsequently proposed over the best part of 200 years but none successfully got off the ground. 

When was the Channel Tunnel built?

Excavation work on the Channel Tunnel started in 1987, with digging taking place on both sides of the Channel at the same time. The English and French tunnels met up in late 1990, and construction was completed in 1993. 13,000 people worked on the project.

Where is the Channel Tunnel?

The Channel Tunnel runs between Folkestone in south east England and Calais in northern France. 

When did the Channel Tunnel open?

The Channel Tunnel was officially opened on 6th May 1994 by HM Queen Elizabeth II and François Mitterrand, the President of France. 

The tunnel was officially opened by the Queen and the French President in May 1994

The construction process - timeline

  • February 1986 – A treaty to approve the tunnel project is signed by the French and British governments
  • December 1987 - Excavation starts on the UK side
  • February 1988 – Digging begins in France
  • December 1990 – The two sides of the tunnel meet up 
  • December 1993 – The first test trains run through the Channel Tunnel
  • May 1994 – Official opening

Quickfire facts about LeShuttle (Eurotunnel)

How fast is LeShuttle?

LeShuttle trains can travel through the Channel Tunnel at speeds of up to 140 km/h.

How long does the LeShuttle journey take? 

The journey time of a LeShuttle crossing is 35 minutes, under normal operating conditions. By comparison, the fastest ferry crossing is 90 minutes. 

How long is each LeShuttle train?

Each shuttle is 800 metres long (that’s the equivalent of seven football pitches).

How many tunnels are there?

Three. There are two main tunnels for LeShuttle and Eurostar services, and a service tunnel in the middle. 

Underwater facts

We get asked lots of questions like these: 'Is the Eurotunnel underwater?' and 'what does the Eurotunnel look like underwater?'

Does the Eurotunnel go underwater?

Yes, the Channel Tunnel is underwater, but it is also built below the sea bed, so you don't actually see the sea while you are travelling. That would be quite a unique engineering achievement! Actually all underwater transport tunnels are built like this. The tunnel is 75 metres below sea level at its deepest point. 

The Channel Tunnel runs an average of 40 metres below the sea bed

Tunnel trivia!

Here are more fascinating facts about the Channel Tunnel, LeShuttle and Eurotunnel.

Animals have a paw-some time!

Over 4 million dogs and cats have now travelled with LeShuttle since 2000, and we are proud of our award-winning pet-friendly travel service. We love looking after animals, and have transported all kinds of creatures as part of conservation and breeding programmes. Amongst our very special passengers have been polar bears, tigers, sharks and penguins!

To the Moon and back

We have carried 100 million vehicles and nearly 500 million people through the Channel Tunnel on our shuttles since 1994. If you put those cars bumper to bumper they would stretch for nearly 600,000 miles – that’s to the Moon and back (and half the way there again)! 

The Samphire Hoe nature reserve has actually extended the UK by 90 acres!

These facts are definitely NOT boring

The 11 boring machines that dug the Channel Tunnel weighed 12,000 tonnes in total – that’s heavier than the Eiffel Tower! One was too big to be removed from the tunnel itself so it simply made a left turn and was buried under the sea. The spoil that was dug out on the UK side could have filled Wembley Stadium seven times, with 4.9 million cubic metres of chalk marl and shale going to create the Samphire Hoe nature reserve, which increased the size of the UK by 90 acres! 

The tunnel of love

Approximately 1.5 million freight trucks cross the Channel every year with LeShuttle. It is a vital route for trade, especially in the post-Brexit era. 25% of the trade between the UK and the EU comes through the Channel Tunnel on LeShuttle. We carry £12 billion worth of fresh fruit and vegetables every year, and 26 million red roses travel through every Valentine’s Day to the UK. How romantic is that? 

Travel with LeShuttle

You’ve read the facts, now experience it for yourself! LeShuttle takes you from Folkestone to Calais in just 35 minutes, ready for your day trip, city break or longer stay in France or further afield.

Experience the Channel Tunnel for yourself