New `Chunnel' planned - with a motorway to follow

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The Independent Online
Plans for a second Channel tunnel have been drawn up by London & Continental Railways, the company that runs Eurostar rail services between the capital and the continent.

The proposals, detailed in a business plan drawn up by L&CR engineers, include a second tunnel which would run French high-speed trains (TGVs) on the proposed Channel Tunnel Rail Link service - planned to start services in 2003 - to run from Dover to London's St Pancras station.

The "Horizon 2010" proposals were prepared after experts calculated that tunnel traffic will reach capacity much sooner than expected, requiring another crossing. Eurostar has carried more than 10 million passengers since 1994. Passenger numbers are predicted to climb steeply when a new high-speed link to Brussels is launched this year.

The signalling system in the tunnel is close to capacity. At present the system allows 20 train "paths" every hour. At this summer's scheduled peaks only three paths will be spare.

Eurotunnel, which owns the tunnel track, stations and signalling, is already trying to upgrade the system. The main obstacle to a second tunnel is likely to be the huge costs involved. With pounds 7bn debt, Eurotunnel would be unlikely to attract private financial backing. However, the Government may offer the chance to other companies to construct a second link.

Engineers calculate that a second tunnel for conventional trains would be cheaper to build than the pounds 10bn for the present Channel Tunnel. L&CR said no firm decision had been taken on future plans. Under the existing agreement between the Government and Eurotunnel, a motorway could be built under the Channel from Dover to Calais early in the next century.