25 years of the Channel Tunnel – the Regulator's view
7 May 2019
By Jen Ablitt, Head of UK Delegation to Channel Tunnel Safety Authority (CTSA).
The Channel Tunnel was completed 25 years ago on 6 May 1994. It remains the only fixed link between Great Britain and mainland Europe and, not surprisingly, transports enormous volumes of passengers, goods and vehicles every day.
At 50 kilometres (31 miles) long it is an engineering marvel. A tunnel was proposed to Napoleon in 1802 and that, plus a number of subsequent ideas, were abandoned in the face of what were viewed as insurmountable difficulties until work finally began on the £4.65 billion project in 1988.
Really not one tunnel but three, including a service tunnel, it boasts the longest underwater section of any tunnel in the world. It even has its own treaty - the Treaty of Canterbury – which not only sets out how it will be operated and regulated by the French and British Governments, but also alters the national borders of the UK and France, very rare in modern times.
For me, it’s a privilege to lead the UK delegation to the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority. Safety is at the forefront of our engagement and we carry out inspections to oversee and enforce French, UK, bi-national and international requirements for the Tunnel and its operators. Regulating the Tunnel today is very much a binational undertaking. It isn’t easy working on technical matters across physical and language barriers, and the differences in our cultures and national regulatory frameworks means that from time to time, we just care about different things. Nevertheless, we’ve been working together for a long time, developing our practices and routines, and there is clear trust and respect for what we are all trying to achieve.
After 25 years, the operation and regulation of fixed links between the UK and mainland Europe is in review again, as we prepare to leave the European Union and the rules and structures that allow us to operate open borders. We should never lose sight of the fact that the Channel Tunnel is a tremendous success. The project has at times been beset by political and operational difficulties, but the fact is that is has driven huge growth in traffic, trade and tourism between the UK and France.