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Eurotunnel traffic in dire straits after fire

Latest update : 2008-09-12

French and British firefighters slowly mastered a fire that broke out on a freight shuttle in the Channel Tunnel on Thursday.The fire injured 14 people and forced operators to shut down all train services.For more information call 0800130130.

French and British Firefighters on Friday slowly mastered a 1,000 degree inferno in the Channel Tunnel but tens of thousands of travellers faced extended disruption.
Forty French and 20 British firefighters battled for more than 15 hours to put out the blaze that broke out Thursday on a freight shuttle. French authorities said it was "under control" but the tunnel would stay closed at least until Saturday.
Thirty-two truck drivers on the shuttle smashed windows on the shuttle to escape and get into the service tunnel from they were evacuated. Six people were injured in the third major blaze since the tunnel under the Channel opened in May 1994.
Two wagons were still burning Friday morning, officials said. But later regional sub-prefect Gerard Gavory said: "The fire is under control... We are now in the phase of cooling things down."
The train was about 12 kilometres (seven miles) from the Calais exit on the French side of the 50.5-kilometre (31.4 mile) tunnel when it caught fire, officials said.
Firefighters battled through the night in relay teams against flames and heat which they said reached around 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,830 degrees Fahrenheit).
Officials suspect the fire started in a truck's braking system that overheated and spread to a tyre. The fire quickly jumped to two other trucks.
One of the 30 trucks on the shuttle was carrying phenol acid, but this did not catch fire.
French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said after a visit to the tunnel that: "Two of the drivers said they heard an explosion and this was followed by flames."
Eurotunnel chairman Jacques Gounon said safety precautions had worked "perfectly".
Asked about the truck drivers smashing windows to escape the shuttle, he said this was a "normal" reaction by the men who may have been "stressed" and "perhaps wanted to get out faster than necessary from the pressurised cabin."
He told French radio the automatic doors on the shuttle only work when it is certain that safety fans are working so there is no risk of anyone being overcome by fumes.
"It takes a few seconds. One can imagine that in the stress of the moment they took the red hammer to get out through the window. A few seconds later they would have got out more easily through the door. It doesn't matter, it worked."
Tens of thousands of travellers have been left stranded in Paris, London and Brussels and hundreds of trucks were stuck on each side of Channel.
Eurostar said it did not expect any services to run Friday between London and the continental capitals of Paris and Brussels. About 30,000 passengers were due to travel on 50 express trains through the tunnel.
"There wil be no Eurostar traffic today. Perhaps tomorrow," a spokesman for the SNCF French state rail company said.
The Eurotunnel chairman had said earlier it was possible the service could get back to half capacity using the tunnel not involved in the blaze.
Channel ferry companies laid on extra boats and rail companies hoped to get passengers to the port.
Kirsty McIntyre, 28, struggling to get to France for a weekend with friends, was stuck at London's St Pancras terminal. "We're going to see if we can get a bus to Dover and a ferry to Calais. It was a bit confusing - you get one message from the website last night and another message here."
The multi-billion-dollar tunnel carries Eurostar high-speed trains between London, Paris and Brussels, as well as freight and passenger shuttles between Folkestone in England and Calais.
There are two tunnels for passenger trains and shuttles and a service tunnel for maintenance and safety operations.
The fire sent shares in Eurotunnel falling three percent on Friday, but the company insisted the financial damage would be "limited."
The tunnel operator's stocks fell 3.33 percent to 8.70 euros at the start of trading in Paris.
In the first serious incident in the tunnel on November 18, 1996, a fire broke out on a late-night shuttle train carrying trucks. Eight people were injured and the service was disrupted for several months.
On August 21, 2006, the tunnel was closed for several hours after a truck engine caught fire, sending smoke through the tunnel.

Date created : 2008-09-12