This was a long time coming, but I’ve been busy. I’m also in kind of a funk tonight, which means I can write, as that’s always good and cathartic for me. It is Monday.
As you may know, in the 1990s a dream of several hundred years was realized as the “Chunnel” or “Channel Tunnel” was constructed. There are actually like four tunnels including a service tunnel, two rail lines for commercial and private traffic and then the tunnel for the high-speed rail EuroStar service connecting London and Paris and London and Brussels, etc.
The other weekend we decided to ditch our digs in Belgium and do a few-day stay in London. And we drove our trusty E39 520d. The car was a champ, and here is how the Tunnel works (as several people asked for details.)
You can just “show up” and buy tickets or you can reserve on-line. Calling ahead (or going on-line) saves you some cash and is well worth it. You can also get more spendy for a “fast-pass” to board quickly or flexipass if your schedule is a little more flexible than you like. Also, you’re able to board early if you arrive early and can make the earlier train.
The depots at each side of the Chunnel are pretty similar. All traffic passes through the first gate which is “tickets please.” There are lines with British flags for those who have right-hand drive vehicles.
Then there is exit border control; the Brits are trying to make sure that radicalized Muslims are not exiting the country to join ISIS while the French are making sure you’re not overstaying your tourist visa in the Schengen region. Then there is entrance border control, where the Brits make sure you’re visiting and not some Eastern European immigrant trying to take advantage of the NHS, and the French really don’t give a shit.
Finally, you drive into a rail yard and corralled into a few different lines. There are separate sections for commercial truck traffic, large cars (think big SUVs and box trucks) as well as regular-height cars.
So this is the fun part. You get to drive onto a train. It’s actually really mundane and not magical, but the novelty of it is still neat. Based upon the lane you’re in, you go to the appropriate train. Normal-height vehicles can board a double-decker car carrier. You drive onto the back of the train and drive through multiple cars as far forward as you can go. Top or bottom is completely random, but for both the trip out and back we were on the top. Typically three or four vehicles will fit on a single train car. Once you’re loaded the train car dividers flip down where the cars articulate. Each car has a potty which can be useful for the half-hour ride.
The trains are “normal speed” electric trains fed from overhead lines. When you arrive on the other side the process is reversed. The front train car lines up at ramps to unload, the train stops, the dividers swing back up and you’re marshaled off. Friendly signs on each side of the Chunnel remind you which side of the road you’re expected to drive upon.
At less than an hour from queuing to driving onto the motorway, it’s a bit faster than ferry services without the seasickness.
Oh, I forgot the pictures.