High Speed Rail and the Channel Tunnel

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The Channel Tunnel

Eurotunnel Car Shuttles
Eurotunnel Car Shuttle Trains at the French portal of the Channel Tunnel

The Channel Tunnel runs under the English Channel between Cheriton, near Folkestone in England, and Coquelles, near Calais in France. It opened to traffic in 1994.

The Tunnel is actually three parallel tunnels, two rail tunnels with a service and emergency tunnel in between. In normal operation, one rail tunnel is used by traffic in each direction, but in exceptional circumstances trains can run in either direction in either tunnel. Crossovers between the tunnels facilitate this form of operation. These are housed in giant caverns excavated below the seabed.

The tunnel carries passenger and freight rail traffic between Great Britain and continental Europe, and also a service of shuttle trains conveying road vehicles between terminals at each end of the Tunnel.

High Speed One

Eurostar trains at St Pancras
Eurostar trains at St Pancras

When Eurostar passenger services commenced, they operated over existing railways in England between the Channel Tunnel portal and London Waterloo station. This route was subject to many speed restrictions and frequent pathing conflicts with other services.

A completely new high speed railway was constructed to connect the Channel Tunnel with central London. The first section of this Channel Tunnel Rail Link opened in 2003, considerably shortening journey times but still involving a slow and tortuous approach to Waterloo station.

In 2007, the second phase of the new railway opened, giving direct access to a superbly refurbished St Pancras station with its impressive Victorian trainshed. The completed line, now known as High Speed One, has also carried high speed domestic traffic since 2009. From 2012 it will carry freight traffic, which will be able to take advantage of the line’s larger loading gauge to reach terminals in London.

In 2011, Eurostar ordered new trains to enable it to serve further destinations in Europe, and the German operator Die Bahn announced its intention to run competitive services to London via High Speed One.

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras Station

As part of the refurbishment of St Pancras Station, the former Midland Grand Hotel has been restored to use as prestige apartments and the luxury St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

High Speed Two

In 2009, the Department for Transport published a report announcing a study into a new high speed rail line serving the Midlands and North of England. The reults of the study were published in 2010, and in January 2012 the Goverment gave its approval for the start of legislation to allow work to commence.

The first phase of the new line, known as High Speed Two, will run from London to Birmingham. There will be connections to High Speed One, and to the existing rail network in the Birmingham area for trains to destinations further north. The next phase of the line is expected to take the form of two branches north of Birmingham, one to Manchester and one running via the East Midlands to Leeds. The following schematic is taken from a Department for Transport report:

Schematic of DfT proposal for HS2

An Act of Parliament authorizing the construction of Phase 1 was passed by the House of Commons in 2016.

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