A fire that broke out on a freight shuttle in the Channel Tunnel on Thursday was still burning several hours later, the director of the local prefect's office said. The fire injured 14 people and forced operators to shut down all train services.
PARIS, Sept 11 (Reuters) - A major fire aboard a freight
train damaged the undersea Channel Tunnel on Thursday, halting
all rail traffic, including passenger services, between Britain
and continental Europe, the tunnel operator said.
Eurotunnel, the company which manages the tunnel, said there
would be no freight or passenger travel on Friday and a
spokesman said he could not say when services would resume.
The blaze turned one of the two main tunnel shafts into a
smoking inferno. No one was killed, but six people fell ill
after inhaling fumes and needed hospital treatment in Calais.
The French interior minister said emergency services had
contained the fire some four hours after it was first detected
and were starting to assess the situation.
"It is probable that there is considerable damage because
the firemen told me that the blaze got as hot as 1,000 degrees
(celsius)," Interior Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie said.
She said it might take "several weeks" to make the necessary
repairs to the tunnel normally dedicated to freight transport,
but a separate, parallel tunnel reserved for passenger trains
was not touched by the flames.
Eurostar, which runs the passenger trains between London and
the continent, was forced to shut down its service when the
blaze took hold.
Any prolonged disruption to services would be a major blow
for Eurotunnel, which only posted its first profit last year.
Officials said they believed the fire started on one of the
lorries loaded aboard the freight service, which then spread.
When the flames were detected, the French-bound train was
brought to a halt some 11 km (7 miles) short of the French end
of the tunnel, and the 32 people aboard the shuttle were
evacuated through a service tunnel.
There was no passenger train in the tunnel at the time of
the fire and all shuttles were turned back, leaving thousands of
passengers stranded in Paris, London and Brussels.
Scores of lorries were also backed up on roads leading to
the freight terminals in both Britain and France as drivers
waited for a return to normal services.
About 40,000 people a day use Eurostar to travel between
Britain and the continent, according to Eurostar.
The Channel Tunnel is 51 km (32 miles) long, including a
38-km (24 mile) stretch that runs some 40 metres under the sea
-- the longest such undersea subway in the world.
There have been two previous blazes in the Franco-British
tunnel since it was inaugurated in 1994.
In November 1996, a truck caught fire causing one of the two
main tunnels to be closed for a month and freight traffic to be
halted for 7 months. In August 2006, there was another blaze on
a truck, but there was no serious damage done.
Eurotunnel got buried by unsustainable debts when it built
the historic link, which were compounded by lower-than-expected
revenues as low-cost airlines provided ruthless competition.
It finally agreed a debt restructuring with its creditors
last year, giving it fresh impetus.
The Eurostar train services are handled by France's SNCF
railway and Belgium's SNCB on their respective territories while
the British arm is owned by London & Continental Railways (LCR).
The British side is managed by a consortium including bus
and train operator National Express, SNCF, SNCB and British
Date created : 2008-09-12