The Channel Tunnel infrastructure

The Tunnels

The Channel Tunnel is the longest undersea tunnel in the world. The section under the sea is 38km long. The three tunnels, each 50km long, were bored at an average 40m below the sea bed, and link Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles in Pas-de-Calais.

The Channel Tunnel pic1


Eurotunnel shuttles, Eurostar and national freight trains run in the two single track and single direction tunnels. These are connected to a central service tunnel by cross-passages situated every 375m. The service tunnel allows access to maintenance and emergency rescue teams and serves as a safe haven if passengers need to be evacuated in an incident. The service tunnel is a road tunnel used by electric and diesel-powered vehicles. Air pressure is higher in the service tunnel to prevent the ingress of smoke in case of a fire in one of the rail tunnels.

The two rail tunnels are 7.6m in diameter and 30m apart. Each rail tunnel has a single track, overhead line equipment (catenary) and two walkways (one for maintenance purposes and the other for use in the event of an emergency evacuation and on the side nearest the service tunnel). The walkways are also designed to maintain a shuttle upright and in a straight line of travel in the unlikely event of a derailment.

The Channel Tunnel pic2

The service tunnel is 4.8m in diameter and lies between the two rail tunnels 15m away from each of them. In normal operations shuttles use the south tunnel in the France – UK direction, and the north tunnel when travelling from the UK to France.

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Two undersea crossovers bring flexibility of operation as trains can pass from one tunnel to the other during night maintenance periods to isolate a section of tunnel.


The track in each rail tunnel has two continuously welded rails laid on pre-cast concrete supports embedded in the concrete track bed.

Fixed equipment in the tunnels comes under four categories: electricity and catenary, rail track and signaling, mechanical systems and control and communications.

Cooling pipes, fire mains, signalling equipment and cables are fixed to the sides of the tunnels and are fed by cooling plants at Samphire Hoe in the UK and Sangatte in France.

The overhead catenary supplies traction power to the shuttles as well as to other trains using the Tunnel, e.g. Eurostar and international rail freight trains. The catenary is divided into sections, so that maintenance work can be carried out in stages. Electrical power supplying the tunnels, drainage pumps, lighting and the trains, is provided by substations on each side of the Channel. In the event of loss of power from one side, the entire system can be supplied from the other side.

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The fixed lighting installations can be switched on from the control centre or manually from within the tunnels. Various fire-protection and detection systems are installed at points along the length of the tunnels.

The Folkestone and Coquelles terminals

Covering an area of 650-hectare and 23-km long perimeter, the Coquelles terminal, near Calais, is one of the largest land-travel complexes in Europe (the equivalent in size to an international airport). As a result of the marshy nature of the soil, the whole area had to be covered with a 50-cm thick layer of sand before construction could begin in order to ensure a good base for the foundations.

The Folkestone terminal, located at 8 km from the undersea tunnels at Shakespeare Cliff, covers a 150-hectare area, i.e. about one third of the area of the French terminal. Its construction required first to stabilise the site in order to prevent the sides of the adjacent escarpment from subsiding. The level of the whole site was then raised to level out the soil and eliminate steep slopes.

Both terminals are easily reached through their direct access to the motorway network in the UK (M20) and in France (A16). They both represent the loading and unloading points for vehicles travelling on Eurotunnel Shuttles. Acess to the terminals is made through tolls, for passenger vehicles and for trucks. Once check-in operations done, in just a few seconds especially via the self check-in system, customers must go through border controls carried out by British and French police and customs. All controls are carried out before departure in order to enable customers to continue their journey directly on the motorway network on the other side of the Channel.
Passengers then have the opportunity to take a break at the Victor Hugo terminal in Folkestone or at the Charles Dickens terminal in Coquelles (shops, restaurants, play area, etc) or to drive towards the allocation areas before reaching the 12 platforms area, each 1-km long. There vehicles can drive on Le Shuttle for passengers (cars, coaches, camper-vans, caravans, motorcycles, etc) or on the Truck Shuttle (heavy goods vehicles).

There are several different areas on each terminal - passenger, freight, control centres, administration and maintenance buildings. Traffic control on the terminals is managed by a road Terminal Control Centre (TCC). On top of the many IT systems enabling vehicles to be recognised upon arrival at the self check-in tolls and the many screens linked to about a hundred cameras, the TCC have a direct view over the allocation lanes for vehicles.

Rail Control Centres

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The entire Eurotunnel transport system is controlled from the RCC (Rail Control Centre). There are two centres, one on each terminal, and each can take turns to take over control of the system. The RCC manages all rail traffic (trains and shuttles) in the tunnels and on the terminals.

The system is in two parts, the Rail Traffic Management (RTM), which controls the rail traffic system, and the Engineering Management System (EMS) which controls the fixed equipment such as ventilation, lighting, power for the catenary, etc.

Although the transport system is automated, controllers are in attendance 24 hours a day, ready to take manual control in the event of technical failure.


The signalling system in the Channel Tunnel is known as TVM 430: it functions by means of data transmission from track to train and is almost identical to the system used on the high-speed TGV Nord-Europe. Instructions and data are transmitted along the track and then to the locomotive driver by indicator lights in the cab.
All Eurotunnel trains are fitted with vigilance devices and full automatic train protection which minimises the risk of collision in the event of a human error.

After travelling through the tunnel, the through-trains operated by the railway companies then continue their journey on the UK or French rail networks, which are connected to the tunnel tracks at Dollands Moor and Frethun, respectively.

The shuttles operated by Eurotunnel remain within the Eurotunnel system: they travel on a rail loop between the Folkestone and Coquelles terminals, using the south tunnel when going from France to the UK and the north tunnel when going from the UK to France.

Service tunnel vehicles

A vehicle was specifically designed for travel in the service tunnel. It is multi-functional and is used for maintenance operations and in case of incidents, with the aim of reaching the scene of an incident in minimum time.

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