Cheers erupted on both sides of the English Channel Saturday when British and French workers digging the Channel Tunnel finally met after knocking out a passage large enough to walk through and shake hands.

"Today, for the first time, men can cross the channel underground," French President Francois Mitterrand said. "What a brilliant sign of the vitality of our two countries."The breakthrough came in a 6-foot-tall service tunnel that will be used to maintain two rail tunnels still being bored. It marked a symbolic milestone in Europe's biggest engineering project.

Using jackhammers, Graham Fagg, 42, of Dover, and Philippe Cozette, 37, of Calais, knocked out the last foot of chalk to link up the British and French sides of the tunnel - which has been dubbed a "chunnel."

The pair then clasped hands, embraced and exchanged their national flags. Workmen in overalls looked on and applauded.

"God Save the Queen!" cried French workers, uncorking champagne bottles.

"Vive la France!" came the reply from the British side.

Saturday's handshake came three years to the day after tunneling began at Sangatte, near Calais, and in Folkestone, England.

The $16.7 billion Channel Tunnel will make it possible to travel from Paris to London by high-speed train in 31/2 hours when it opens in June 1993.

The train trip through the tunnel is expected to take only 35 minutes, compared with 90 minutes by ferry.

The tunnelers have spent the past month drilling through the last 100 yards of chalk

trying to align the two halves.