Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) - Railway Technology
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Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL)

Full UK Government approval was granted in 1996 for the two sections of the 69-mile (108km) high-speed Channel Tunnel Ra


London & Continental Railways

Due to open


Route length

108km (69 miles)




Full UK Government approval was granted in 1996 for the two sections of the 69-mile (108km) high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL). The opening date of the first phase, 43km, was 28 September 2003, with the rest four years afterwards.

Speeds of up to 186mph (300km/hr) make the journey time from London’s Waterloo International station to Paris, Lille and Brussels up to 20 minutes quicker (fastest journey times of 1hr 40min to Lille, 2hr 20min to Brussels and 2hr 35min to Paris).

After 11 years of financial and political turmoil, the £1.9bn project suddenly moved forward after the signing by London & Continental Railways (LCR) in October 1999 of construction contracts for the new line from the Channel Tunnel to Fawkham Junction in north-west Kent.

Railtrack agreed to fund the construction of the shorter but more expensive CTRL Phase 2, from Fawkham Junction to London St Pancras via north Kent and east London. This will complete a high-speed route from the Channel Tunnel to London by 2007.

CTRL project

The project was originated by London & Continental Railways, a consortium of eight major shareholders, including design and planning consultancy Ove Arup and Partners, engineering firm Bechtel, train and transport operators Virgin and National Express, investment bank SBG Warburg and French rail project manager Systra. Control passed to the newly-formed Network Rail in 2002.

Four civil engineering contracts were awarded for Section 1, including the East Thames to Medway Valley connection, River Medway crossing, North Downs Tunnel and the Ashford station area realignment.

CTRL is basically a French-style LGV high-speed line linking London with the Channel Tunnel portal at Dollands Moor near Folkestone. Although Section 1 is relatively straightforward and follows existing transport corridors such as the M2 motorway, Section 2 requires large amounts of tunnelling under the River Thames and under East and North London.


Major structures on Phase 1 included the 1.3km Medway Viaduct (completed in 2002) and the nearby 3.2km North Downs Tunnel. Further north on Phase 2, the line passes through a 3km tunnel under the River Thames before running along an extended 1.3km viaduct section under the Queen Elizabeth II M25 bridge and over the adjacent Dartford Tunnel exit road at Thurrock in Essex.

After this the line dives back into tunnel near Dagenham to run for 19km underground through Stratford, emerging above the East Coast Main Line near Holloway Tunnels, close to King’s Cross. This need to tunnel under the built-up areas of London has meant that 25% of the route runs through tunnel at a total of 16 miles.

As well as the underground station at Stratford, a large new depot will maintain the Eurostar fleet closer to its home route. This replaces the current facility at the North Pole in west London, which is difficult to access from St Pancras.

The entire area north and east of St Pancras station is being redeveloped, with several new connections from CTRL to the existing network to allow through working, new connections for Thameslink services and non-railway development.

Apart from the reconstructed station at Ashford International, Section 1 has no new stations. However, Section 2 will have intermediate stations at Ebbsfleet in North Kent and at Stratford in East London.

Maximum speed on the line is 300km/h, although tunnel sections closer to London will be limited to 270km/h and speeds are lower as the trains approach St Pancras. A magnificent new international station has been created at St Pancras by upgrading and expanding the former Midland Railway station as an interchange between Eurostar, domestic CTRL, Midland Mainline and Thameslink services and several London Underground lines. The station is also convenient for East Coast Main Line services to and from King’s Cross.

Funding for Section 2, on which construction started in July 2001, came from a mixture of Government bonds, Railtrack’s purchase of Section 1 and a £2.2bn grant.

LCR continues to own and operate the Eurostar train business and hopes to generate finance from development land at King’s Cross, Ebbsfleet and Ashford. The line is a mixture of new and existing alignments, separate from existing lines where they run parallel.

Rolling stock

Eurostar trains were introduced on London-Paris/Brussels in November 1994. Built by a consortium led by Alstom, the trains are based on proven technology from French TGV trains. Each train operates using the three different electrical systems used on the railways of Britain, France and Belgium – 750VDC from a third rail and 25kVAC and 3kVDC from overhead lines respectively.

Several SNCF-owned sets also have a 1.5kVDC capability for working in southern and eastern France. This is used for working Eurostar’s Ski Train to Bourg St Maurice in the Savoy Alps and the summer-dated service to Avignon.

‘Three Capitals’ trainsets comprise two half-sets of one power car and nine intermediate trailers, making a total trainset of 20 vehicles. Bogies within each set are articulated, sharing a two-axle bogie between vehicle ends. They are basically similar to French TGV sets but are reduced to UK loading gauge to allow operation over ‘classic’ lines in Britain.

Cars are of monocoque construction, while the aerodynamic nose of each power car is made of glass-reinforced plastic with a steel safety cage surrounding the driving position.

In 2004 the Japanese Hitachi group was selected as preferred bidder for the CTRL domestic train contract. Dual-system EMUs, based on the ‘A-Train’ concept should be in service by 2009.

Signalling and communications

Eurostars operate under five different signalling systems. On the French high-speed lines and in the Channel Tunnel they use an in-cab system, which gives the driver information. If the top speed is exceeded brakes are automatically applied. CTRL uses French-style TVM430 to control trains although they retain UK AWS and TPWS for operation on classic routes.

Trains are also equipped with KVB receivers, picking up information from trackside transponders along the French high-speed route, again showing the permitted speed to the driver on an in-cab display. A similar system is used in Belgium.

The future

Summer 2003 saw the first test runs on Section 1 and on July 30 a Eurostar Class 373 smashed the UK rail speed record with a dash of 334.7km/h (208mph). The previous record was set by the Advanced Passenger Train on 20 December 1979 at 259.5km/h (162.2mph).

Geological problems halted work in east London in early-2003 as land subsidence caused concerns for existing infrastructure such as London Underground’s Central Line.

Once the whole line is open in 2007, London to Paris travel times should be cut to 2 hours 15 minutes with Brussels possible in two hours. The Channel Tunnel portal is just 35 minutes from St Pancras and from 2009 Kent services will see significant reductions with Ashford taking around 36 minutes from London via the CTRL.

CTRL domestic services will connect London with Gravesend, Margate and Broadstairs by joining the classic network at Ebbsfleet, while services to Canterbury, Ramsgate and possibly Dover will continue to Ashford to join existing routes there.

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