Tunnel opens today - and then closes

The channel tunnel will be officially opened today - and already there are fears that it will be unable to cope with demand from rail passengers.

The tunnel will close immediately after today's inauguration, by the Queen and President Francois Mitterrand, as it is not ready to take commercial traffic. Baroness Thatcher, who signed the original agreement to build the tunnel, will attend the opening. About 100 vintage cars will be taken through tomorrow as part of the celebrations but it will be at least 17 May before the first commercial traffic, shuttle freight trains between Folkestone and Calais, starts.

There are already worries that the tunnel will not achieve its full potential because of the failure of the British government to provide a high-speed rail link between London and Folkestone. The lack of capacity is likely to mean fares rising in order to reduce demand - and some would-be passengers opting for air travel.

It is expected that the Eurostar trains, which will get from London's Waterloo station to Paris in three hours and to Brussels in 15 minutes more, will become an instant success while the shuttle services between Folkestone and Calais run by Eurotunnel will lose to ferry competition.

Special report, pages 13-16

Letter, page 17

View from City Road, page 33

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