A Handshake to Inaugurate New Connection Between France, Britain
PARIS (AP) _ People will be able to walk between England and France when a thin wall of chalk is knocked down Saturday in the tunnel beneath the English Channel.
Two workers - one British, the other French - are scheduled to shake hands at midday in a historic encounter that French television plans to broadcast live across much of Europe.
″The geography of the planet will no longer be quite the same,″ the French newspaper Le Figaro said Friday. ″After more than two centuries of proposals, then five years of financial crises, doubts and debates ... the famous tunnel under the channel will finally become a reality.″
Philippe Cozette, a 37-year-old foreman with two years’ service in the tunnel, has been chosen as France’s handshaker. As of late Friday, the name of his British counterpart - to be chosen by lot - had not been released.
British authorities said police, customs and immigration officers will be empowered as of Saturday to make random checks on workers and visitors emerging from the tunnel. The tunnel’s exit will become a border post, subject to various laws aimed at deterring terrorism and drug smuggling.
″It must be recognized that in 1989, almost half the drugs seized in the United Kingdom arrived from Europe,″ a British customs official said. ″The tunnel is therefore seen as a potential route for drug-smuggling.″
The rendezvous comes a month after the first linkup, on Oct. 30, when workmen bored a hole about the diameter of a garden hose through the last 100 yards of chalk in the service tunnel. The purpose was to help align the French and English sections.
The service tunnel, to be used by maintenance crews, is the smallest of three 31-mile tunnels being bored between Calais, France, and Folkstone, England. The other two will accommodate trains equipped to carry passengers and motor vehicles.
More than 80 percent of the drilling has been completed.
The costs, in both human lives and money, have been higher. Nine workers have been killed since construction began in 1987.
It is the biggest engineering project in European history, and the pricetag has climbed from an initial estimate of $9.4 billion to $16.7 billion. It is scheduled to open in June 1993, but officials do not expect to turn a profit until 1997 at best.
Fares for the undersea crossing have not been set. But experts say the charges may be at least double the 1986 projections of $46 per person in a motor vehicle and $19 per person riding in the train.
The trip through the tunnel is expected to take 35 minutes, compared to 90 minutes by ferry. One ferry company plans to replace its fleet with giant, high-speed catamarans capable of carrying 450 passengers and 80 vehicles over the channel in 40 minutes.
Saturday’s ceremonies will have a bittersweet side for some of the tunnel’s promoters because of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation earlier this month as British prime minister.
Andre Bernard, president of the Eurotunnel consortium that has run the project, praised Mrs. Thatcher in an interview published Friday in Liberation, a Paris daily.
″One can say what one wishes about Margaret Thatcher and Europe, but it was she that wanted this tunnel despite the opposition she encountered,″ Bernard said.
The French government is to be represented at Saturday’s ceremonies by Transport Minister Michel Delebarre. He is expected to be the first person to travel the full length of the tunnel. He plans to witness the handshake, then accompany British Transport Minister Malcolm Rifkind to England before taking a helicopter back to France.
The linking of Britain to the continent fulfills an aspiration of Napoleon, who in 1802 contemplated defeating the English by constructing a bridge or tunnel.