Queen Elizabeth, Mitterrand in historic trip under channel

May 07, 1994|By Cox News Service

FOLKESTONE, England -- Queen Elizabeth II and President Francois Mitterrand of France crossed the English Channel by luxury train yesterday, capping a centuries-old Anglo-French dream to join Britain with Europe.

"We now have a land border, madame," Mr. Mitterrand told the queen. "Calais is no more than half an hour from Folkestone."

The inauguration of one of the great engineering feats of man came after six years of construction, a $16 billion price tag and a little help from one of the tunnel's competitors -- a ferry company that carried the queen's Rolls Royce across to France for the formal opening ceremony.

In low-key speeches, Mr. Mitterrand and the queen praised the tunnel as a human as well as geographic bridge between their nations.

"This is the first time in history that the heads of state of France and Britain have been able to meet each other without either of them having to travel by sea or air," the queen said.

"To rejoin what nature separated some 40 million years ago has )) been a recurring dream of statesmen and engineers for several centuries."

The two heads of state, standing side by side on a drizzly channel day, cut a red, white and blue ribbon at the French end to formally open the "Chunnel." The ceremony was broadcast live on British and French television.

Speaking at the terminus in Calais, Mr. Mitterrand praised the 30.7-mile-long tunnel dug 130 feet beneath channel waters as "a prodigious work of imagination."

The tunnel was dedicated more than a year behind schedule and at more than double original cost projections. It won't open to the public for months, and maybe not until next spring.

It will open gradually this summer to freight, then to groups with special invitations and to passengers who bought tickets before the latest delay.

The Chunnel is actually two one-way rail tunnels with a smaller service tunnel between them. Each is 31.4 miles long.

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