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Kirkus Reviews+ A journalist's revealing overview of the construction, engineering, and financial, political, and technical resources required to build the railway tunnel that now connects the sceptered isle of England with continental Europe by way of France.
Drawing on a wealth of sources, including interviews with principals who got the immensely expensive job done, Newsday correspondent Fetherston provides a start-to-finish account of the so-called Chunnel project, which opens with a brief review of the false starts and alternative proposals that had been made over the years. He goes on to recount how Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterand created a binational commission to study the possibility of an underwater link. Despite the Tory prime minister's insistence that no government money be spent, spirited opposition from ferry interests, the stock market crash of 1987, and other obstacles, the enterprise gained sufficient momentum and funding (from lenders in two dozen countries) for work to begin. Owing to a notably hostile operating environment as well as marked differences in national construction practices and standards, the Anglo-French contracting consortium experienced ongoing difficulties. In the fall of 1990, however, British and French excavators achieved a significant breakthrough, meeting at a midpoint beneath the English Channel. Now in service, the Chunnel encompasses three continuous tubes (each more than 49 kilometers in length) from Folkestone to Coquelles, plus dozens of cross-passages and chambers whose uses range from equipment storage through train switching. Despite signs of popularity with shippers and tourists, the spectacular submarine facility has yet to prove economic; plagued by past cost overruns and a staggering debt burden, in fact, the Chunnel remains years—perhaps decades—from break-even.
A tellingly detailed rundown on a remarkable undertaking that could prove either an eighth wonder of the modern world or one of commercial/industrial history's great white elephants.