Thursday, September 19, 2013

Freight and Passenger Business Continues to Grow as Channel Tunnel Wins Award

Engineering Triumph for a Project Originally Proposed Centuries Ago
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – Groupe Eurotunnel has confirmed that the Channel Tunnel has been recognised as the most important large scale civil engineering project in the world in the last 100 years by FIDIC, The International Federation of Engineering Consultants. Since opening, over 320 million individuals have passed beneath the English Channel through the longest under-sea tunnel in the world, along with around 10 million trucks and 10 million tonnes of rail freight using the service in the eight years to 2012.

The jury for the awards was an international panel composed of engineers and project developers from around the world who selected the tunnel, along with its project management team from SETEC and Atkins US, from amongst 150 candidate projects coming from all five continents and representing the most remarkable human achievements of the 20th century. Amongst the other candidates for the award won by the Channel Tunnel were the Tokaido Shinkanzen (the first Japanese high speed line, between Tokyo and Osaka), the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Hoover Dam Bypass, the bridge linking the states of Arizona and Nevada.

The FIDIC Century Awards are considered by many as the most important awards in the world of infrastructure and this year coincided with the FIDIC Centenary Conference in Barcelona where the awards were presented this week. A comprehensive list of winners in all categories is available HERE.

The Channel Tunnel is the only Tunnel in the world to support its own weight, that of the sea bed and the sea above. It has the advantage of many innovations, both in terms of its construction and its transportation system, which have created new standards and methodologies for the modern world. A project that was mooted literally for centuries, but early schemes foundered on the possibilities for invasion the project presented to both French and English politicians, with numerous plans to include things ranging from oil lamps and horse drawn carriages to air vents through the Varne Bank.

The original funding estimate proved to be woefully inadequate and the eventual initial cost reportedly exceeded £4.6 billion with Eurotunnel now putting investment costs at €15 billion in total, but stating that the Railway Usage Contract (RUC) was agreed at the outset in order to ensure that the long term costs of the project would be recovered. This is the 1987 agreement between British Rail and SNCF lasting 65 years which has come under fire from the European Commission recently who say the arrangement is illegal.

Photo: Detail from Thomé de Gamond's plan for a Channel tunnel as presented to Napoleon lll in 1856 showing a harbour with air vent mid-Channel on the Varne sandbank. The Dutch trained engineer proposed several schemes for a crossing from 1834 until his death in 1876, spending all his money in the process but always being confounded by French and British fears of invasion. He is known as ‘The Father of the Tunnel’ by enthusiasts.