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Channel Tunnel reopens Saturday to passengers

Latest update : 2008-09-13

The fire-hit Channel Tunnel rail link between France and Britain was to reopen to passenger traffic Saturday morning with "a reduced service", operator Eurostar announced.

The fire-hit Channel Tunnel rail link between Britain and France reopened to freight services late Friday, a spokesman for operators Eurotunnel told AFP, and was to reopen to passenger traffic Saturday morning with "a reduced service"

"Two rail freight trains have already left from the UK," the spokesman said, adding that the first convoy of four heavy goods vehicle (HGV) shuttles was set to run from Britain to France at eight minutes past midnight (2308 GMT).

The blaze, which broke out Thursday, saw British and French firefighters battling on into Friday to put out an inferno in which temperatures hit 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,830 degrees Fahrenheit).

"Commercial services have already started," the spokesman said.

"Two test trains ran from France to England, went round the loop and were followed back to France by two goods trains."

HGV shuttle services "will be running from 0008 British time," he said.

"We've been running test services throughout the evening. We've just completed the series of tests and the first full convoy, which will be a four-HGV shuttle convoy, will run from UK to France."

He said that trains would take it in turns to run in each direction on the line unaffected by Thursday's inferno. The world's longest uninterrupted undersea link comprises two train tunnels and a service tunnel between the two.

"Once every two hours, a four-shuttle convoy will leave the UK and the opposite hour another four-shuttle convoy will leave from France," the spokesman said.

"The rest of the services will be building up over the weekend."

He said that the tunnel contained two crossover points between the two main lines and once the unaffected sections of the fire-hit tunnel were reopened, the number of services would increase.

The fire -- the third to strike the 50-kilometre (30-mile) tunnel since it opened in May 1994 -- claimed no fatalities, but it left tens of thousands of travellers stranded or forced to change their travel plans.

Extra flights, buses and cross-Channel ferries were laid on. On Friday alone, some 30,000 travellers had been booked to ride a total of 50 Eurostar passenger trains -- all of which were cancelled.

Limited passenger traffic was set to resume on Saturday, Eurostar announced in Paris.

Date created : 2008-09-13