Enormous Le Shuttle trains, which are 5.6m high (18ft), one-third of a mile long and take up to 180 cars, were shown at Calais for the first time yesterday by Eurotunnel which took over the tunnel last week.
Christopher Garnett, Eurotunnel's commercial director, said there was no need for any facilities: 'The journey will only take 35 minutes. There is a toilet every third carriage but we didn't feel that we needed to provide anything else.'
Nor will there be much to entertain the passengers. There are only five small windows on each level of the 24 carriages - half of them double- deckers - that will make up the trains. Mr Garnett said the size of the windows had been dictated by safety requirements for the 31-mile journey through the tunnel at speeds of up to 85mph. 'In any case, there is a lot of artificial light inside,' he said.
The compartments, which will each take five cars, are roomy enough for people to leave their vehicles to stretch their legs. But unlike the ferries, which have become floating hypermarkets, there will be nowhere for them to go except the lavatory - no shops, no duty frees, not even a drinks machine.
The ribbed aluminium carriages, said by Eurotunnel to be the most sophisticated ever built to cope with the stringent safety requirements, look like a Fifties fantasy spaceship.
Inside, each compartment is separated from its neighbour by a fire gate, and there will be six crew in addition to the two drivers to deal with any emergency. Each train, which cost about pounds 40m, has 100 emergency doors, 380 cameras and monitors, and display panels visible from each car giving information on the journey's progress.
Motorists will use one of four loaders to drive on to the train and Mr Garnett dismissed any doubts about how long this process will take. He said: 'Motorists will get from British motorway to French motorway in an hour, saving an hour and a half on the ferry'.
He said that on a windswept day like yesterday, where squally showers prevented hovercraft from operating and delayed ferries, time savings would be much greater.
Eurotunnel claims it will take only eight minutes to unload each train and as customs will be cleared before entry on to the train, motorists will be free to drive straight off on to the motorway system. There will be no bookings and Eurotunnel expects most people to buy their tickets from toll booths at the entry to the terminals. Mr Garnett said there would be four price bands covering winter, spring/autumn, summer, and peak time Fridays and weekends. But unlike ferries there would only be one price for any particular day.
Although details are not being disclosed until 12 January when tickets go on sale, Mr Garnett said that fares would be broadly in line with those of ferries.
Services for lorry shuttles, which are being kept entirely separate from cars, will start on 7 March. But delays to delivery of the rolling stock means that Eurotunnel will only start passenger shuttles on 7 May, the day after the official opening of the tunnel by the Queen and President Francois Mitterrand.
Initially there will be two shuttles an hour, moving to four at peak times, with a 24- hour service every day of the year.