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France - United Kingdom

Channel tunnel marks engineering triumph, financial problems on 20th birthday

On 1 December 1990 tunnel workers Philippe Cozette (R) from France an Graham Fagg(L) from the UK meet under the Channel
On 1 December 1990 tunnel workers Philippe Cozette (R) from France an Graham Fagg(L) from the UK meet under the Channel AFP

Twenty years ago on 6 May Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and France’s then-president François Mitterrand cut the inaugural ribbon of the Channel Tunnel. An engineering masterpiece, the tunnel has nevertheless suffered financial problems for years.

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The 38-kilometre tunnel from northern France to southern England was a feat of engineering - and of finance. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher faced opposition from her Conservative Party and pushed it through by promising that not a penny of public money would be used.

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When the project started in 1987 hundreds of thousands of French and British investors, most of them individuals, bought shares in Eurotunnel, the company that would build and manage the tunnel.

They thought they were safe investments

But the project cost twice as much as forecast - some 15 billion euros.

There were also fewer passengers than expected and management problems, leading to operator Eurotunnel almost going under.

A restructuring deal was reached in 1997. Shareholders received their first-ever dividend in 2009 – four cents a share

In January of this year the company said it had a turnover of one billion euros in 2013.

Nearly 325 million passengers have used the tunnel since it opened.
 

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