FROM A TO B WITHOUT SEA - THE IEE 1996 FARADAY LECTURE ON THE CHANNEL TUNNEL
Reviewed by Tom East.
The British Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) presented their annual
Faraday Lecture before a live audience in London: they and the IEEE broadcast
it by satellite simultaneously on February 7th at 1 pm EDT: it was transmitted
on Rogers Channel 20 (KW and Cambridge), and has been repeated since on Channel
The "lecture" consisted of a dialogue between a British engineer, Nicholas
Storer, and an actor playing the part of a French engineer, Thome de Gamond,
who, in 1830, proposed a channel tunnel from France to England (not the first
one to do so, but a contemporary of Faraday). The dialog, in which the Brit
acted as straight man to the Frenchman's clowning, was interspersed with a few
diagrams and film clips of construction and the trains.
I found the dialog very tedious (perhaps my taste for English humour has faded
since I left England 44 years ago), but some interesting facts emerged. The
question period afterwards (involving Canadian and US viewers as well as those
in the theatre) was somewhat marred by communication difficulties, but brought
out further ideas.
In 1830, Thome de Gamond, using very crude home made diving equipment, picked
up samples of the seabed to confirm that it was practical to tunnel beneath it
- the final tunnel runs through chalk marl.
Earlier this century, a tunnel was actually started, but abandoned.
In the late 1980s, the tunnel was bored from each end, using English and French
Tunnel Boring Machines: they cut two running tunnels 9m dia (7.6m after being
lined with concrete segments) and a service tunnel 4.8m dia in between. The
TBMs progressed at 11 km per month. The French TBM was pulled back to France,
but the British one is buried under the middle of the tunnel and is used as a
system ground connection. The tunnels start from the loading stations at
Folkestone and Calais and descend at 1 in 90 (1.1% grade) to get 40m below
seabed: the UK tunnels turn under the water at Dover.
The TBMs were guided by lasers. When they were about 100m apart, a test hole
was bored and it was found that the two tunnels were only a few centimetres out
of line. There is a small amount of seepage of water: there are five drainage
pumps in the system, and only three are normally in use.
About 12,500 jobs were involved in the project, which cost about eight billion
pounds (about $18B Can) including inflation and interest, and was financed by
200 banks. Traffic has been running for a year, and is covering costs of
operation: to recover the total project cost will take "into the next
It takes about 2,500 people to operate the system. Trains run every 3 minutes
in each direction (with an improved signalling system this could be reduced to
2 minutes). Half the trains, called "le Shuttle", are car and truck ferries,
built by Bombardier of Quebec, and run from Folkestone to Calais - this takes
35 minutes (28 minutes under the water): each train is 800m long. The other
trains are passenger trains, mainly from London to Paris and Brussels, and
freight trains which can continue over major lines in Britain and Europe. The
electric locomotives contain power converters using Gate Turn Off (GTO)
thyristors so they can operate from British, French and Belgian supplies (25kv
AC, 750v DC and one other). Each loco has traction power of 5 MW, so that it
can pull a train up the grade at 140 km/hr, and, in an emergency, push a dead
train out of the tunnel in front of it. The system uses up to 200 MW from each
There are, of course, extensive safety measures. For instance, each railway
carriage has its own fire detecting and extinguishing system so an affected
carriage would be pulled out of the tunnel to be dealt with on the surface.
There are several communication systems. One of them uses a fibre optic cable
running through the tunnel, with converters at intervals to radiate signals to
Much attention was paid to environmental factors during construction, and
Eurotunnel received awards from environmental organisations. It is hoped that
the tunnel will boost the use of rail freight and hence relieve the congestion
and pollution on highways.
NEWS FROM INDUSTRY
Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd now owns a plot of land at the north end of
Phillip Street behind the Parkdale II Plaza and has started construction of a
7000 square metre office/factory building for the Panacom Automation Division,
which designs and manufactures X-stations.
Open Text Corporation is now quoted on NASDAQ as a result of a recent
$69,000,000 US share offering: the shares rose sharply in price after they
were put on sale. The company has been recruiting software developers and
Waterloo Maple Inc. signed a contract with a Malaysian company during the trade
mission lead by the Prime Minister. It involves a Malaysian version of
Mathplus for Malaysian schools. Also, under another contract, CRC Press of
Florida will use math software from Maple in a CD-ROM version of its widely
NEW NETWORK ACROSS CANADA
The CANARIE National Test Network is being combined with CA*net to make a high
speed ATM network. Several Internet providers and provincial and municipal
research networks will be connected to the network to start with.
Students at the University of Montreal are to use multimedia displays to learn
human anatomy instead of cadavers, which are costly to maintain.