The train plunges underground. Only white neon lights hold the darkness. A child cries, annoyed by the thud of the tunnel. The neighbors try to relax the toddler. A woman seated in a few seats loses interest. His excessively painted eyes never leave the screen of his cell phone. She ensures that she works in fashion. The back and forths, the tunnel, she has ” the habit. It’s a train like any other, after all ”.
Thirty years ago, however, the 1is December 1990, a handshake went around the world. That of two tunnel boring machines, one French and the other British, celebrating the junction of the longest underwater tunnel in the world. For the engineers, the challenge was immense: 50.45 kilometers of gallery where millions of passengers would soon circulate. That day, Great Britain is no longer an island, one can theoretically get there on foot, a hundred meters below the English Channel.
A tunnel that changed everything
“People don’t realize. It changed everything ”, comments Jane, 60. Born to English parents, she spent her life between France and the province of Kent. It was known before 1994, the date of entry into service of the Eurostar. “It was crazy, like we were teleporting. Before, it was so long to travel. “ For the first few years, Jane amused herself by listening to the breathing of the passengers in the wagon before entering the hose. “It looked like everyone was snorkeling. The driver took care to warn the passengers that they were going to enter the tunnel. “
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Since then, the Eurostar has seen it all. The draconian security checks following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the students on an Erasmus stay, the migrants who tried, in 2015, to climb on the roof of the train. Distances which are shortening, identities which are awakening. And, finally, Brexit.
When it comes time to go through security checks at Saint Pancras station, the subject is already on everyone’s lips. Dyana and her colleague, who greet the passengers, discuss the latest rumors. “There should be a second customs post, one British and one French, before getting on the train”, they assure. At the customs post, it is a changeover day for the border police, a new team is presented. “All the instructions that we are given are subject to change, we are in the dark”, says one of the newcomers.
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In three weeks, everything will change. Immigration rules, paperwork to travel to the UK. “The queues could well be congested”, he warns. For now, the waiting halls are almost empty. Blame it on Covid-19 and health measures. Since August, you have to complete an online document to disembark in the United Kingdom. “An overview of what it will be like to travel after Brexit”, thinks Dyana knows.
The Brexit Challenge
Marianne takes a few steps on the blue carpet to try to unblock her ears. “Chew, chew, I’m telling you”, his mother repeats. The train finally exits the tunnel. The northern plain is crisscrossed with steeples that scroll by accelerated. To Paris, the train will follow the motorway and the trucks that supply Europe. Each year, nearly 140 million euros of goods pass through the Eurotunnel.
The Eurostar is also the train for businessmen and suits and ties on their way to Brussels. Peter is tapping on his computer keyboard, his briefcase between his legs. He has been liaising once a month since he worked for the TP ICAP bank. “Like many other banks, it will soon leave the City to settle in Paris. There are too many post-Brexit uncertainties. ”
It is he who is responsible for negotiating with the French, managing the move. “How ironic it is to take this train, which is a European symbol, to manage the consequences of our departure from Europe. “ On the edge of the ballast, a promotion panel reminds passengers: “The Eurotunnel, a vital link. “