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Industrials

FACTBOX-Key facts on Channel Tunnel

Nov 30 (Reuters) - Eurotunnel is on Wednesday celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Channel Tunnel breakthrough. [ID:nLDE6AS0FV] [ID:nWEA5155]

Here are some key facts about the Tunnel:

TIMELINE:

1751 - Engineer Nicolas Desmarets suggests the idea of digging a tunnel under the English Channel.

1802 - French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte backs a scheme for a tunnel under the Channel for horse-drawn carriages.

1880 - Colonel Ernest Beaumont makes first serious attempt to build tunnel. Britain later stops project on defence grounds.

1955 - British government lifts ban on Channel Tunnel.

1994 - Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and French President Francois Mitterrand formally open the Channel Tunnel.

1996 - A fire destroys a Eurotunnel freight shuttle and severely damages a section of tunnel in November, injuring 34.

2009 - Services are disrupted for several days before Christmas, badly denting Eurostar’s image and finances.

Filters fail to stop snow from causing short circuits in trains’ engines and the temperature difference between the humid tunnel and cold outside cause condensation to build up, leading to more failures. About 2,500 people are trapped in the tunnel for up to five hours.

2010 - Eurostar says in February it will spend 30 million pounds ($47 million) to protect services from winter weather breakdowns.

In May Eurostar train services to London are suspended due to a smoke alert.

* TUNNEL CONSTRUCTION:

-- The first tunnelling machine in the marine service tunnel began excavation in December 1987 on the English side and broke through to the equivalent French tunnel in December 1990.

-- The twin 31-mile (50 km) tunnels, built by 15,000 workers who put in 170 million man hours, carry trucks and cars on trains under the Channel in just 35 minutes between Folkestone in southern England and the north-eastern French port of Calais.

* FINANCES:

-- The original 1986 concession called for private funding when the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher insisted that “not a public penny” should be sunk into the tunnel.

-- Delays in the start of train services in 1994 and lower than anticipated traffic numbers exacerbated financial problems.

-- Eurotunnel took on massive debt and the loss-making company at one stage had interest payments equivalent to more than $850 every minute.

* EUROTUNNEL TODAY:

-- Cross-Channel rail operator Groupe Eurotunnel warned in July it would not post a profit in 2010 unless it received further insurance payouts for a tunnel fire in 2008.

-- Eurotunnel made a first-half loss of 45 million euros on 22 percent higher sales of 331 million euros. It booked 33 million euros in insurance indemnities in 2009 but Chairman and Chief Executive Jacques Gounon said the company only received half of that.

-- It is awaiting the payment of the remainder and of 59 million euros blocked following a legal challenge by train operator Eurostar.

Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by David Holmes

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