You’ve doubtless seen the elegant Eurostar trains gliding through London carrying Continental passengers, but did you know the very first Channel Tunnel passenger trains are now used on normal commuter routes, and thousands of people ride in them every day?

Today the news media will be talking a lot about the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Channel Tunnel, however, the more interesting anniversary actually takes place tomorrow, not today.

On this day, the dignitaries took posh trains through the Channel Tunnel. However, it was the following day that paying passengers were able to use the service — and they travelled on ordinary British Rail trains.

The formal public service in the swanky new Eurostar trains wouldn’t start for a number of months, but on 7th May 1994, the first paying passengers attended the “Folkestone 1994” celebrations and two fairly average British Rail Class 319 trains carried them into the tunnels.

They didn’t go far though — just over a couple of miles to a crossover point, and then returning.

The trains had to be specially modified to work with the higher overhead power lines, and the gap between train and the station platform was so great that planks of wood were needed to span the gap.

They might have only gone a few miles down the tunnel, but they were the first official fare-paying passengers to go inside.

Remarkably, those train carriages are still in use in London, on the Thameslink line carrying commuters on rather less glamourous journeys.

Units 319008 and 319009 can be spotted on the Thameslink like, operated by FCC as they have badges on the carriages.

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On 26 March 1994 units 319008 and 319009 were named “Cheriton” and “Coquelles” respectively at Victoria and plaques adorned with the Union Jack and Tricolore were installed on their motor carriages

On the same day, they then went off to break the speed record for the trip to Brighton, with a trip of 37 minutes and 57 seconds. A record that was held for just over a decade.

However, if you use the Thameslink trains, look out for those banners — they are a much more important commemoration of ordinary people using the Channel Tunnel.

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12 comments
  1. Thomas Canning says:

    Its a bit of a shame that Eurostar and FCC haven’t managed to arrange some sort of “20th anniversary” trip on the original Thameslink Carriages. I am sure people would have paid to cover the costs.

  2. Robert Waller says:

    I was one of the few that were allowed to attend the naming ceremony and travel on the high speed run from London Bridge to Brighton. Graham Eccles (M.D. for B.R. Network South East at the time) and Dr Who (Jon Pertwee) named the 2 319s, I believe Cheriton and Coquelles respectively, which we then took from Victoria to London Bridge, we were supposed to have had clear signals all the way to Brighton for the run, but the signaller at Gloucester Road Junction box, (just before East Croydon) had us running under caution, and we nearly failed to beat the record for the run.

  3. Alan Burkitt-Gray says:

    I remember taking the family on the Thameslink train from Sandling station into the tunnel for a mile or so and then back out again. Then we got back on the ordinary train and headed into Folkestone, where a steam train was shuttling into and out of Folkestone Harbour station, now totally derelict.

  4. boris perkins says:

    I am not sure where you sourced your information but it is incorrect. The clue is in the date 10th December 1993. I was the Traction Engineer on South Central that led the team responsible for modifying the units, running tests in the east bore tunnel before carrying almost 200 English guests to Coquelles. The occasion was the handing over of the tunnel from TransMancheLink(TML) the builders to Eurotunnel as owners. The units were very unsuitable for the job but we managed it!
    The ramps to enable the guests to board were not “planks of wood” but aluminium (I believe) checker plate with handrails. I, also, designed the plates fitted to the two units.
    I do not believe that the jaunts into the tunnel took place the following year as this was a difficult one-off exercise and I am sure I would have been involved if the March date had been attempted!
    Regards
    Boris Perkins

    • ianvisits says:

      The 1993 trip was a special one that was indeed through the tunnel — but for officials only.

      The 1994 trip I wrote about, and which other commentators have spoken of attending is widely known about, and there are plenty of links in the article to corroborative evidence. It is more significant than the 1993 trip, because it was for the first paying passengers, not freebies for officials.

  5. John says:

    I remember going on one of those trips into the tunnel. Just went in for a short while then stopped and back out again. Was still good fun and able to be inside the tunnel.
    Since then I have been through many times on the Eurostar service and the Eurotunnel service.

  6. Simon says:

    As a long-time Thameslink commuter, I’d noticed that plaque on “Coquelles” many years ago, and couldn’t quite figure things out, so this is very interesting.

    However, does this mean the plaque is slightly misleading? Surely “carried…passengers through the Channel Tunnel” is overstating things, if it was just a trundle in and out of the tunnel by way of a day out for trainspotters etc?

  7. Robert Waller says:

    @Simon, I believe the official trip was through the tunnel and not just part of the way, and the units were therefore named after the 2 ends of the tunnel.

  8. boris perkins says:

    Further to Simon’s post, my previous comment made it very clear that the units went through the tunnel fo Coquelles for the very important hand over ceremony. Before we were allowed through our tunnel, the French brought their guests from France with an electric loco hauling corail coaches with a diesel loco on the rear for added flexibility in case of failure. The French went round the “bloc” and back into their tunnel to France. It was not until they had arrived back in France, that we were allowed to proceed. On exiting the tunnel, we went the wrong way round by taking an immediate left track so that we could come to a stop face to face with the French train.
    It was an important milestone in the building of the Channel Tunnel and I am proud to have been part of it.
    Are the people that remember short trips into the tunnel sure that the units involved were Cheriton & Coquelles. I believe it was more likely that the diesel multiple unit used by Eurotunnel at times in the tunnel that would have been involved?

  9. thameslink commuter says:

    The same units were used in 1993 and 1994 – they were the only ones adapted to work with the higher ohle equipment in the tunnel
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Class_319#mediaviewer/File:319008_at_Sandling.jpg

  10. Alan says:

    Hi,can I ask what was the top speed the 319s reached in the tunnel. Thanks

  11. Selhurst No.1 Technician says:

    I can confirm that it was 319008/9 involved in BOTH of these events. As Boris says, they were originally used for the Dignitaries run through the tunnel to France in December 1993. Then for the Guests from London for the Queen to open the Tunnel on 6th May 1994 (Inauguration Day)and the following day for the commoners with our ice creams to have a go.
    Regarding the top speed in the tunnel – well on the trip to France in December it was max 75mph as I remember.

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