It was that simple

Frank Barrett
Tuesday 03 May 1994 23:02
Comments

AT 4.55pm last Thursday I was sitting on a train in Folkestone. At 5.25pm I was on the same train in Calais. In just 30 minutes I had made a journey to France that has taken almost 200 years to complete.

The English Channel, the turbulent expanse of sea that has throughout history been such a formidable barrier (Shakespeare's 'silver sea . . . a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands'), has been drained away. England is now bolted to France just as surely as it is linked to Wales or Scotland.

Yet the astonishing thing was that my journey was so ordinary. The train quickly gathered pace from the platform and within a couple of minutes had entered the tunnel. Very rapidly it built up to its maximum speed of 80mph without the least sign of locomotive judders or mechanical hesitation.

The train's passage along the track was impressively smooth: none of the clattering da-dun da-dun rock'n'roll rhythm typical of progress along any Network SouthEast line. 'Just like a Tube train ride,' said somebody. Except that Tubes rattle and crash with terrible fury as they roar through the blackness beneath London. Le Shuttle was a church mouse: conversations among passengers could be continued in the sort of pianissimo tones suitable for chatting to the vicar over tea.

Incredibly, one member of our 'preview' party of passengers slept throughout the journey; others idly flicked through a pile of old Sunday newspapers lying in an overhead rack. They might all have been travelling home to Sevenoaks on the 4.55 from Charing Cross.

I walked to the back of the carriage and looked through a rear window at the black hole of the tunnel as it raced away behind us. There was an undeniable dreamlike quality to it all. Could we really be travelling at such speed beneath the English Channel? Suddenly we were racing out of the darkness and into the slanting sunlight of an early French evening. The crossing was over. From England to France by train: as simple as this.

Claustrophobic? The ride was about as claustrophobic as a breakfast stroll through the open spaces of Hyde Park (certainly far less so than the queue can be in a ferry's duty-free shop). A couple of people said that their ears popped at some point, as the air pressure changed. But this was the only report of physical discomfort. Perhaps things will not always be as smooth-running as this. But my experience convinced me that the state opening of the Channel tunnel this Friday will eventually count as one of the Great Events of the Twentieth Century.

So let's raise a glass to toast the future possibilities that tunnel travel offers. Not just the economic potential of tourism or enhanced trade links; let's contemplate the selfish pleasures. Savour the prospect of climbing aboard a train on a cold spring night in Cardiff or Manchester and descending six or seven hours later on a warm, sun-drenched morning at a bougainvillaea-scented platform somewhere in Provence. I predict that in 100 years' time, the wonder will be not why we need to live with it; but rather how we ever managed to live without it.

If we have anything to regret about the tunnel, it is that Friday's opening didn't take place 30 years ago. But for now, in words once used in other circumstances by Baroness Thatcher (we should not forget that she was the Mother of the tunnel): 'Rejoice] Rejoice]'

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in