Coquelles Shuttle Terminal

Calais, France

This can only be described as an absolutely colossal site which, according to The Official Channel Tunnel Fact File (March 1994), covers an area of 700 hectares, upon which are 60-KM of electrified railway track within an 18-KM perimeter fence. The terminal at Coquelles, France, on the south western periphery of Calais, sits adjacent to the southern portal of the Channel Tunnel and, in addition to comprising ten shuttle platforms served by an equal number of standard gauge (1,435 mm) tracks, is home to the major repair and maintenance depot of Eurotunnel’s motive power and rolling stock fleet. The terminal is about three times the size of that on the other side of the Channel at Cheriton, Folkestone; the restricted site at the latter dictated that the bulk of the shuttle infrastructure be concentrated on French soil.

The Channel Tunnel project formally began on 12th February 1986, when British and French Governments signed the ''Fixed Link Treaty'' in Canterbury Cathedral. On 18th October of the previous year ‘’TransManche Link’’ (TML), the Anglo-French engineering group selected to build the Chunnel, had been formed through the merger of consortia ‘’Translink JV’’ and ‘’TransManche GIE’’. Translink JV was responsible for boring the British half of the Chunnel and constructing the Shuttle terminal at Cheriton; the building of the terminal at Coquelles and the south eastern portion of the Chunnel came within the remit of TransManche GIE. Chunnel boring began on the centrally-positioned Service Tunnel from the British end on 15th December 1987. On 28th February of the following year, boring of the same tunnel began from French soil.

By August 1990, 5,332 metres of boring remained until British and French portions of the Service Tunnel met under the Channel. North and South Running Tunnels (i.e. those through which the railway passed) had 19,867 and 23,107 metres to go respectively until breakthrough. The Service Tunnel breakthrough occurred on 1st December 1990; by April of the following year, 1,421 metres of boring remained before the two parts of the North Running Tunnel met; the South Running Tunnel still had 4,586 metres to go. The breakthrough for North and South Running Tunnels occurred on 22nd May and 28th June 1991 respectively. By the time of this landmark achievement, civil works at both British and French terminals were well advanced.

The majority of the area selected for the terminal at Coquelles comprised marshland, which first needed to be drained and stabilised prior to any construction work. A series of canals were dug and water tanks installed to drain the land, and the area was compacted with millions of tons of earth, sand, and chalk to provide a solid enough foundation for building work to take place. Such was the extent of earth moving at Coquelles that it was equivalent to shifting over seven times the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest in Egypt.


On 30th November 1992, the undersea border between Britain and France was formally established. This was followed on 14th December of the same year by the delivery of the first Shuttle locomotive to Coquelles and, on 6th December 1993, it was the first time a Shuttle locomotive travelled through the tunnel.

TML handed over the Channel Tunnel and terminals to "Eurotunnel" during a formal ceremony, with fireworks, on 10th December 1993, after the completion of building works. The Channel Tunnel was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterrand of France on 6th May 1994, the entire construction project having involved 170,000,000 man hours of work.

At the time of opening, the power required just to operate the trains on the Chunnel system was over 160 megawatts, which was comparable to the peak load capacity of a town with a population of 250,000. Additionally, 20,000 light fittings were installed within the tunnels combined, power being supplied by cables totalling a length of 1,300-KM.

When completed, the concrete lining of each tunnel bore was the strongest in the world; reportedly, it has a crushing strength approximately twice that of the concrete in the pressure vessel of a nuclear power station. The concrete used to line the Chunnel is reinforced with steel, and the quantity used on the French side of the operation was equivalent to building three Eiffel Towers.

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

Coquelles Exhibition Centre

Exhibition centres were opened by Eurotunnel at both Calais and Folkestone sites. That at the former was located on the western side of the terminal at Coquelles, about 400-metres from the platforms. It comprised a futuristic-looking grey building, 60-metres-long by 22-metres-wide, with a curved roof, upon which crossed a staircase leading to a cylindrical observation post. Prominent in front of the main exhibition centre was a cutting head from a tunnel boring machine, displayed upon a timber-clad mount.

In the April 1992 edition of The Railway Magazine, it was reported that the foundation stone was laid at the French Exhibition Centre on 20th January of that year by Eurotunnel Chairman André Bénard, in the company of French writer Pierre Daninos, the creator of Major W. Marmaduke Thompson. The occasion coincided with the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Channel Tunnel concession.

Based on your author’s best research efforts, the cutting head disappeared in about 2001, to vacate space for today’s “Channel Outlet Centre”, which opened two years later. As for the main exhibition building, this became home to "CIFFCO": Le Centre International de Formation Ferroviaire de la Côte de Opale (The International Railway Training Centre of the Opal Coast).


The Chunnel Exhibition Centre at Coquelles was built into the side of a mound, to the west of the terminal platforms (see above track diagram for location). Upon one of the slopes leading to the main building (part of which is seen in the background), the grass was coloured to form the "Eurotunnel" logo. © David Glasspool Collection


The then futuristic-looking exhibition centre's main building is seen, complete with staircase which passes across the curved roof and leads to the cylindrical-shaped observation tower behind. The forecourt was dominated by one of the gigantic cutting heads from one of the tunnel boring machines. The cutting head was removed after closure of the exhibition centre and its site is now occupied by parking spaces for "Le Cite de L' Europe" shopping complex. The "Eurotunnel" logo evident in the previous photograph can just be seen behind the cutting head, upon the slope. A Renault "Express" van completes the French scene. © David Glasspool Collection

F40: Heavy Maintenance Building

This was one of the first structures to be erected at Coquelles, the building — minus railway tracks and machinery — being complete by February 1991, at a time when the surrounding terminal site was still flattened earth and sand. It is a mammoth structure, covering an area of 11,000 square metres, which rises to 16-metres at its highest point, and has been constructed upon piles sunk into the ground just as deep. The maintenance facility has been known in Chunnel circles from the outset as "F40".

Within the April 1991 edition of TML's The Link publication (in essence, this was a montly-issued magazine which gave progress reports on Chunnel construction), it was stated that construction of "F40" had involved 7,500 cubic metres of poured concrete and 445,000 kilograms of steelwork. The building's original role was projected as accommodating Shuttle assembly work; however, by the time of its completion, it had been decided that "F40" would also be used as a rolling stock maintenance workshop. At the time, "F40" was unique in Europe for being the only building of its type to make use of an infra-red heating system.

Equipment installation with "F40" had to be completed by the end of June 1991, because Shuttle assembly was scheduled to begin within the building in the latter half of the year. Twenty different subcontractors with a combined workforce of 120 people were involved in equipment installation, and 2-KM of pipework was fitted to "F40" to supply compressed air for the maintenance tools. The building accommodates eight parallel-running tracks, three of which pass through the tallest part of the structure known as the "Main Hall". Four tracks, including the trio within the Main Hall, form that part of "F40" which is designed to handle heavy maintenance on Shuttles every 100,000 KM they run. The remaining four tracks — which are separated from the heavy maintenance section by a line of workshops and stores — are geared towards light repairs on Shuttle trains, every three to nine days. Heavy maintenance is undertaken with the assistance of twelve jacks, which can be moved around depending on the length of the train worked on. Combined, the twelve jacks can lift six coupled Shuttle wagons aloft. In addition to these, four jacks are available to lift a single Shuttle locomotive during heavy maintenance, and the Main Hall is equipped with a 25-tonne travelling crane — affording an operating ceiling of 12-metres — under which can be hoisted Shuttle wagons above their own height. Steel gantries afford access to the roof of a locomotive for pantograph maintenance.

Five of the tracks are served by a bogie drop, which is a pit that runs perpendicular to the rails. A bogie of a wagon can be placed over the drop, detached from the rolling stock, and then the rails upon which it sits lowered hydraulically, allowing it to be moved to a completely different length of track for maintenance. A total of seven small turntables were built into the trackwork of "F40", to enable bogies to be moved to other parts of the building. Wagon bogies can be replaced within the space of half an hour.

For re-profiling worn wheels, a lathe was set into a concrete block under one of the tracks. Wagons can be hauled over the lathe with precision by a rail-mounted trolley; the rolling stock is then supported upon jacks and the rails underneath removed, which facilitates re-profiling without having to detach the bogie from the vehicle.

As of 1995, "F40" was responsible for the maintenance of eight freight shuttles, nine passenger vehicle shuttles, and thirty-eight shuttle locomotives; a grand total of 567 vehicles. Shuttles enter "F40" under their own power for light maintenance, and workers undertake repairs from a trolley which runs alongside trains.


"F40", the gigantic heavy maintenance depot for the Shuttle fleet, is the tallest of the buildings forming the backdrop of this northward view. The structure sits amongst a spaghetti of tracks in the centre of the terminal complex. The passenger vehicle service in the foreground, wearing the original "Le Shuttle" livery, had arrived from Cheriton (Folkestone) and was heading for the return curve to reach the platforms. © David Glasspool Collection


Prior to the laying of track, thousands of catenary masts were installed at Coquelles Terminal, mostly undertaken by a local workforce newly-trained for the task. The April 1992 edition of TML's The Link magazine remarked that work on the overhead wire system at the terminal commenced on 28th October 1991, the first task being the laying of foundations for the masts. The work was scheduled to be completed at the end of July 1992 and was carried out by subcontractor "Spie-Batignolles".

Within the tunnel, the contact wire — i.e. the wire which a locomotive's pantograph touches to retrieve power — was situated 5.9-metres above the rails; in the terminal area, this increased to 6.3-metres. Between each set of masts is a distance of 51-metres, and the contact wire zig-zags between posts to even out wear on locomotives' pantographs. Ideally, an identical mast type would have been installed at both Cheriton and Coquelles Terminals, but more stringent planning regulations in the UK forced an alternate design to be adopted on that side of the Channel.

The overhead wires comprise a 3.37-metre-long dead section between the terminal and tunnel. The reason for this is because the Chunnel system uses a three-phase power supply; the terminals and tunnel are each on different phases which cannot come into contact with each other.

Cheriton Terminal and the British side of the Chunnel take their power from the UK's National Grid, whilst Coquelles and the French portion of the Chunnel are fed by France's electricity supply. So UK and French power supplies do not come into contact with each other, a series of breaker switches exist to keep them separate — two near Coquelles Terminal, an equal number near Cheriton Terminal, and six within the Chunnel.

In total, 950-KM of overhead wire was installed across the Chunnel system, with a current capacity of 2,500 amperes. 15,000 catenary supports were installed to carry the wires, which involved using over 1,000,000 individual components.


The standard gauge trackwork of the Chunnel and both terminals combined amounted to 200-KM in length when completed, encompassing 174 points and crossings. At Coquelles, the terminal's track formation is arranged in a large figure-of-eight, to even out the wear of wheels on both sides of Shuttle trains.

Rail Traffic Management and Engineering Management Systems

In the January 1994 edition of The Link magazine, it was reported that TML had developed the biggest real time data system to ever exist at that point in time outside the world of space research. Combined, the Rail Traffic and Engineering Management Systems were responsible for constantly monitoring more than 30,000 points in the Chunnel system. The software for these systems required the writing of approximately 500,000 lines of code, and 700 million bits of information could be carried every second over three fibre-optic cables with a combined length of 238-KM.


A rare sight on the Folkestone side, but commonplace at Coquelles: a Shuttle locomotive not coupled to rolling stock. This is locomotive No. 9013 "Maria Callas", which is amongst those tracks situated in-between the heavy maintenance depot and the freight sidings, the latter of which sit outside of the terminal complex's southern perimeter and are physically separated by a fence (they are marked on the above diagram). The carriage behind the locomotive is a saloon used by lorry drivers using the freight shuttle, whilst the covered double-decker vehicles behind are for the passenger shuttles. © David Glasspool Collection


The tail-end of a passenger shuttle formation is seen exiting the curve which leads round from Beussingue Cutting, on the Chunnel portal approaches, and the train will soon pass the heavy maintenance depot. © David Glasspool Collection

Road Network

The Official Channel Tunnel Fact File (March 1994) stated that, when opened, Coquelles Terminal had 50-KM of roads. In the Liverpool Echo on Saturday, 5th September 1992, it was reported that the then new road interchange between the French motorway and terminal had just opened. The road interchange is built around a giant circular man-made lake, 390-metres in diameter, located at the northern extremity of the terminal site. More than 1,500 trees were planted around the entrance to the terminal.

The roads are connected to the terminal's platforms by four gigantic viaducts built from concrete reinforced with steel, these of which were erected at both Coquelles and Cheriton using huge cranes. There exist nine island platforms and one side platform at the terminal, serving ten tracks. In 2003, The Railway Magazine reported that at both Coquelles and Cheriton Terminals were built two additional platforms, which were numbered B1 and B2 — your author, as of yet, has been unable to ascertain whether B1 and B2 corresponds to each side of the same island, or represents two completely separate island platforms in their own right.

Twelve huge lattice gantries, 200-metres in length, straddle the platforms; these support the lighting and have a distinct suspension bridge look about them.


This is an eastward view from the observation tower of the Chunnel Exhibition Centre showing, in the foreground, a proportion of the vehicle segregation lanes for traffic waiting to board the Shuttles. In the background, to the right, can be seen the northern-most pair of white-coloured gantries which support the lighting above the platforms. © David Glasspool Collection


Three Shuttle locomotives, forming the rears of Cheriton-bound workings, are seen at the platforms in the company of a Peugeot 106 in this south eastward view. In the background can be seen the heavy maintenance buildings and stabled Shuttle passenger stock. © David Glasspool Collection

Le Cite de L' Europe

Literally translating to "The City of Europe", this is a large shopping complex located midway between the terminal platforms and the artificial lake at the motorway interchange. It has a surface area of 73,000 square metres and was built to a design by French architect Paul Andreu. The design of the huge suspension bridge-like lighting gantries, the curving road network around the lake, the pagoda-style ticket booths, and the huge metal screens which flank the terminal platforms, are also Andreu's work.

Le Cite de L' Europe opened in March 1995, its distinctive architectural feature being a centrally-located arched thoroughfare, off which fed two levels of shops. Under its roof on opening were twelve cinema screens, thirty restaurants, 150 shops, a hypermarket (a department store and supermarket in one), and eleven supermarkets.

Beussingue Cutting

Beussingue Cutting is located west of Coquelles Terminal and contains the approaches to the Chunnel portals. By August 1988, the outline of the cutting had been formed; one of two new road bridges across its south eastern end had been completed, and the columns for the second were in place. By July of the following year, the three tunnel portals — running and service tunnels — had largely been completed, and the floor of the cutting levelled. For the purposes of fire protection, a high-pressure plant with a 800-cubic-metre water tank was planned for the cutting, to work in combination with another such facility at Sangatte Shaft. On the southern side of the cutting exists a huge electricity substation.

6th May 1995

Tri-Bo locomotive No. 9010 is seen after emerging from the northern running tunnel with a passenger shuttle, making its way through Beussingue Cutting. The cutting takes its name from the hill that the tunnel approaches were carved through. © David Glasspool Collection

Sangatte Shaft

Sangatte Shaft is located about 300-metres from the shoreline and 3-KM northwest of the Chunnel portals. It is here where cooling and ventilation systems for the Chunnel are located, which work in combination with a plant situated on the opposite side of the water at Shakespeare Cliff, Dover. The infrastructure at Sangatte is based on a site of eight hectares in area and, in the April 1992 edition of TML's The Link magazine, it was reported that the cooling system handles thousands of cubic metres of chilled water. The water runs at an initial temperature of approximately three degrees centigrade, through loops of pipe within the Chunnel bores, which ensures that the temperature is kept at between 25 and 30 degrees centigrade.

Large fans push air into the Service Tunnel — both at Sangatte and Shakespeare Cliff — which is then "leaked" into North and South Running Tunnels through a series of cross-passages. Typically, the rate of ventilation is 145 cubic metres per second; however, in an emergency, this can be increased up to 300 cubic metres per second in either running tunnel. Additionally, the flow of air can be reversed in the tunnels, should there be a requirement to remove smoke.

Construction of the shaft and plant at Sangatte involved 90,000 cubic metres of earthworks, the pouring of 10,000 cubic metres of concrete, and the installation of 7-KM of electrical cable ducts. By June 1987, the protective diaphragm wall was already built around the shaft, and by July 1989, segments were being lowered down the shaft for the tunnel’s lining. By November 1993, huge ventilation ducts snaked down the shaft, which is large enough to accommodate the Arch de Triomphe. A grass roof was installed on the largest of the buildings at the shaft, to blend in with the surrounding fields.