Eurotunnel Car Trains

Although not strictly within the remit of this website, I thought I would also cover the Eurotunnel car trains under the Channel, as they do provide an element of loco haulage to and from the Continent.

From its opening in 1994, the Channel Tunnel gave two new ways for passengers to travel between the UK and the Continent – by Eurostar between London and Paris and Brussels, and on the car-carrying “Le Shuttle” between Cheriton (Folkestone) and Coquelles (Calais).  This article looks briefly at the latter.


The view from a car boarding a train at Coquelles of 9810 on the rear of a car train to Cheriton.  Taken by my lovely fiancee Nic as I was driving at the time!

The car shuttle service

The car-carrying shuttle is operated by Eurotunnel and operates to a fixed timetable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with up to four departures an hour in each direction.  There is no provision for foot passengers – all passengers need to be in cars or coaches.  Certain commercial coach services do use the shuttle (whereas others use the Dover to Calais ferry).  The journeys take approximately 35 minutes.

Access to both terminals is directly from each country’s motorway network – the M20 in England and the A16 in France.  As such, it’s probably best considered not so much as a train service at all but as a tolled section of motorway on which vehicles happen to be conveyed on board trains and pre-booking of a slot gives a cheaper fare.

The traction

The trains are worked in top-and-tail fashion by Bo’Bo’Bo single-cabbed electric locos assembled by Brush Traction in Loughborough from the early 1990s.  The initial batch dating from 1992 were numbered 9001 to 9038.  One of these – 9030 – was destroyed in a catastrophic fire in the Channel Tunnel on 18th November 1996, and was replaced by a new-build loco, 9040.  Since 2004, these locos have been going through a comprehensive upgrade programme, from which the locos so treated are emerging as 7 MW (9,400hp) machines and renumbered in the 98xx series (with the last two digits remaining the same).

There are also 20 similar locos dedicated to the freight shuttles (9101 to 9113, and 9701 to 9707), but these are outside the scope of this article.


Such a service is inherently “unbashable” in that you cannot wait for a “winner”, in fact not only do you not see the identity of one of the locomotives at all until you are driving down the ramp towards the train, but you never actually see the other locomotive at all.

However, the on-board staff are invariably very helpful in advising you of what its number is.  They walk through after departure and as long as you are sensible and polite about how and when you ask them if they could find out for you and above all explain why you want to know, they tend to ask the question and come back with the answer and a smile.

Do also note that (in my experience) if you travel out and back from the UK on the same day in your car – even if the outward was by ferry – you are likely to get pulled by UK Customs back at Coquelles for a thorough interrogation and search of your vehicle.

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