Channel Tunnel between France and Britain resumes limited service after major fire

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Saturday, September 13, 2008


Location of the fire.

The Channel Tunnel, which runs between France and Britain, has resumed limited services after an earlier fire. Of the two tunnels, only the South tunnel has been reopened to the trains that run the route, the blaze having seriously damaged the North tunnel.

The fire started on a freight train loaded with lorries. It burned for 16 hours and at its hottest was at 1,000°C. 27 lorries, six freight cars and a locomotive have been damaged. Significantly, the damage to the tunnel itself runs along a 700m stretch and exceeds the damage caused by an earlier fire last decade. The other fire required £200 million and a six month closure before the tunnel could be reopened.

The incident required 32 people, mainly lorry drivers, to be evacuated from the train, which was heading to Calais. Fourteen were taken to hospital, some suffering from smoke inhalation. Several of those who escaped have said that they had expected to die.

The fire's cause is unclear. The Guardian reports the fire started on board a vehicle carrying chemicals, but the BBC reports that the origin is unknown. Both sources confirm a lorry carrying carbolic acid was on board and French authorities say it is overturned near the seat of the fire, but it is unclear if this is the lorry the Guardian meant.

Eurostar are operating some passenger trains through the tunnel, and limited freight services have also resumed, but long delays are expected. Car trains have not yet resumed.

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Conservative transport spokesman Timothy Kirkhope commented that he felt the fire was worrying, saying "[w]hile thankfully nobody was killed in this incident, two significant fires in 11 years should act as a wake-up call."

However, operator Eurotunnel, who run regular evacuation drills, was pleased with the response by its staff.

French authorities are investigating the accident as it occurred at the French side, seven miles from the French exit of the 32-mile tunnel.

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