18 AUGUST 1939, Page 11



[M. Dautry, who is Chairman of the French Channel Committee, was formerly Director of the Chemin de Fer de l'Etat] WHY has the Channel Tunnel never been built? In my opinion simply because the plan, long though it has been before the public, has never been adequately under- stood. It is quite time to dispel any lingering hesitations regarding it, and I am glad to have an opportunity of doing that in the columns of The Spectator. Let me first of all recall that some years ago, when last the question was dis- cussed in Parliament in Great Britain—on June 3oth, 193o, to be precise—the proposal was only lost by seven votes in the House of Commons (172 against 179). The well-known Member Sir William Bull, who, together with Sir Arthur Fell, had been so admirably persistent an advocate of the plan, wrote the next day in the Press : " I have no hesitation in saying that we are in no way discouraged by this setback.

On the contrary, for my part I regard the result as extremely encouraging. Anyone who has made a close study of the plan realises what prejudice, confusion and ignorance still persist regarding it. All that will have to be squarely faced before the Tunnel is built."

I would go so far as to say that among all the great modern undertakings ever contemplated, I can see none offering greater advantages than this. In the matter of the actual construction Nature itself provides the most favourable con- ditions possible, a shallow sea-5o metres at the outside—the bed of the Straits composed of easily workable chalk (cheese, your engineers call it), in which the whole length of the Tunnel can be dug, if everything goes as one is entitled to expect, with the help of a simple boring-machine ; then, among the different strata superimposed on one another at the bottom of the Straits, a layer of really providential chalk called grey Rouen chalk, reaching from one coast to the other and marked by a singular impermeability ; finally, this happens to lie between the two nearest points in the Straits of Dover, and is found nowhere else, so that there could never be more than one Tunnel, not a dozen in different places, as the opponents of the plan have suggested.

French and British engineers, moreover, are agreed on the desirability of providing final evidence of the practica- bility of the plan by driving a miniature tunnel from one side to the other, as the first of the series of operations. Clearly this gallery must be built first of all, for it may be described as the key of the whole work, providing the basis for estimates and establishing with considerable precision the cost of the construction of the main Tunnel. As to the cost, I think one is taking an outside figure in speaking of 3o million pounds sterling, or rather more than 5 milliard francs, actually less, unless I am mistaken, than the price of three battleships. The future submarine railway would run for only 39 kilometres under the sea, which is less than twice the length of the Simplon Tunnel.

As to working expenses, British and French engineers agreed in 1930 with the experts of the British Committee, instituted in that year, in estimating what in technical lan- guage is called the working-coefficient at less than 20 per cent.; I think it would be safe to say 17 per cent., that is that to earn too millions it would be sufficient to expend 17, and since conservative calculations put the receipts in the first year at 557 millions, the very moderate increase of to per cent. in traffic would be sufficient to bring in an extra 5o millions at a cost of not more than eight or nine millions.* This is all based on the very moderate estimate of 3,000,000 passengers in the first year of working, a figure which is already reached by the Channel services from the different ports, and allotting to the Tunnel the transport of not more than 410,000 tons, ruling out all heavy, cheap and medium-priced goods. What anxiety, by the way, need the British Merchant Marine and certain railway systems, so far hostile, feel, seeing that the export and import trade by all these shipping-lines amounts to 700p00,000 tons a year, and that the steamships and ferry boats could well find useful employment elsewhere?

Is there any need to emphasise the prospects before the future submarine railway? A direct connexion which would link the two greatest cities in the world, next to New York, which would enable the journey to be performed in 41. to 5 hours (so that you could go and return the same day), which would by its European extension reach the Hinterland of Europe, where England still remains an unknown island, which would unquestionably bring still more European travellers to England than it would attract English to the Continent, which would make England the railhead of the trans-Continental routes to the East and the Cape of Good Hope.

The Channel Tunnel will be a true civilising agency. Unfortunately, in present circumstances economic considera- tions are being relegated to the background, as the lamented Baron d'Erlanger said to me only a few weeks ago, and sub- ordinated to the strategic services which the Tunnel could render in case of war. The latter assume the highest importance if it is realised that the submarine railway could handle 15o trains in each direction, providing transport for two divisions a day with all their equipment. It was Marshal Foch who said " The Channel Tunnel would make war in Western Europe impossible," and General Weygand has done us the honour of accepting the Vice-Presidency of our Tunnel Committee, with the special aim of studying its strategic role.

I have not space within the limits of this article to dwell on the part the Tunnel might play in the provisioning of Great Britain; a tunnel would enable England to use all the French Atlantic ports, instead of its ships being compelled to converge on English ports to discharge their cargoes in the face of every kind of bombardment. One final word. There are those who fear that in case of war the roof of the Tunnel might be smashed in by a bomb. Really ! Really ! A roof about 5o metres thick, covered with a mass of water con- stantly in movement another 5o metres deep! This is simply mental aberration. I can find no other word to apply to such a criticism.

* It is estimated that a dividend of 9 per cent. would be earned in the first year, and that might even rise to t r per cent. or 12 per cent. if a certain process, called the Fougerolle process, for evacu- ating rubbish directly into the sea through the roof of the Tunnel were successful.