2008 Channel Tunnel fire
The fire lasted for sixteen hours and reached temperatures of up to 1000 °C. Of the thirty-two people on board the train, fourteen people suffered minor injuries, including smoke inhalation and were taken to hospital. When the fire was reported, the tunnel was immediately shut to all services except emergency traffic. The undamaged south tunnel was reopened 13 September with a freight train entering the tunnel at Folkestone at 00:08 BST and a limited service provided with trains travelling in turn in alternating directions in the one tunnel. By the end of September, two thirds of the north tunnel had reopened. Full service resumed in February 2009 after repairs costing €60 million.
This fire was the third to close the tunnel since it opened in 1994, the first being the 1996 Channel Tunnel fire and, in August 2006, the tunnel was closed for several hours after fire broke out on a truck loaded onto a HGV Shuttle.
The fire was reported on 11 September 2008, at approximately 13:57 UTC (14:57 BST / 15:57 CEST) 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) from the French entrance to the tunnel in the North Tunnel. The blaze spread to other trucks on the train during the evening, destroying six carriages and one locomotive. The fire continued to burn overnight and was reported to have been put out by 06:00 UTC the following day, although fire crews continued to smother minor fires nearby for a further two hours. More than 300 firefighters from both sides of the English Channel helped tackle the blaze, with emergency services from East and West Sussex, London and Essex providing support.
Thirty-two people on board the train were led to safety down a separate service tunnel; fourteen people suffered minor injuries, including smoke inhalation, and were taken to hospital. The shuttle was carrying 27 vehicles.
A lorry carrying 100 kg of phenol (carbolic acid), a toxic product used in the pharmaceutical industry, was initially thought to be close to the seat of the fire; however this is discovered to be an error and only 100g was carried. Eyewitness accounts state that two loud bangs, described as explosions, were heard and then thick smoke swept through the carriage. The train came to a grinding halt, and the lights went out. Further eyewitness accounts suggest that the emergency exit was jammed, and one passenger smashed a window with a hammer in order to climb out. The temperature in the tunnel was described as "very hot".
About 650 m of tunnel was damaged by the fire, 50% more than during the fire of November 1996.
Tunnel closure and reopening
As the tunnel was closed, Operation Stack phase 3 was initiated to deal with queuing road freight, closing a 14-mile (23 km) coast-bound section of the M20 motorway, between junctions 8 and 9 in Kent. Private motorists with Eurotunnel tickets were given vouchers for cross channel ferries. The fire caused the recall of five Eurostar passenger trains en route at the time, affecting 2,000 passengers.
At midday on the following day, the ‘bi-national status’ of the operation was lifted making it a French incident. Eurotunnel retook control of the infrastructure and its technicians started to carry out a physical inspection to allow operations in the south tunnel to resume.
Eurotunnel initially announced that all services would be suspended until 14 September; however, after inspection found no damage to the south tunnel, empty test shuttles were trialled during the evening of 12 September. A freight train was permitted to enter the tunnel in the early hours of the morning on 13 September, and limited Eurostar services resumed at 06:00 BST later that morning, with 18 services in each direction, including a return journey from London to Disneyland Paris. Some passengers arriving at St Pancras Station reported that they had smelt smoke whilst travelling through the tunnel. A limited passenger shuttle service restarted on 14 September with the 06:18 BST from Folkestone. Services were increased when the section of the north tunnel was reopened from Folkestone to the UK crossover on 22 September, and again on 29 September when the tunnel between the crossovers was brought back into service. While the final sixth of the tunnel was being repaired, trains were limited to 100 km/h (62 mph) by the Intergovernmental Commission. Service levels were reduced so that only 90% of Eurostar services, 60% of Eurotunnel passenger vehicle shuttles and 70% of the HGV shuttles were able to run, costing Eurotunnel an estimated £185 million (€200 million) in lost revenue.
Repair works were estimated at about €60 million. On 18 October, the investigation authority released the damaged section of tunnel back to Eurotunnel who then assessed the tunnel lining and replaced over one thousand bolts holding the concrete lining. The damaged concrete was then removed with high pressure water jets, damage to the reinforcing steel mesh repaired and a new concrete lining applied by a shotcreting process. This used about 4000 tonnes of new concrete and was completed in early January 2009. During the remainder of January, tunnel equipment was repaired and replaced as necessary, with the installation of overhead line equipment on 28 January. After test running, Eurotunnel reopened on 9 February 2009.
When the train stopped in the tunnel due to a fire, the procedure was that the smoke is removed by the high powered ventilation before evacuation is allowed. However, when the train came to a halt, people saw the smoke and some panicked. The evacuation procedure is now shown in nine languages in the lorry driver's club car. Eurotunnel are also concerned that it took 75 minutes before the fire services started to tackle the blaze and that the ventilation was on during this time, fanning the fire and increasing the damage. After tests in April 2010, Eurotunnel built four "fire-fighting stations" in the tunnel. When a fire is detected on a train, it continues to the next station, passengers and crew are evacuated into the service tunnel and an automatic system puts the fire out with water mist. These were operational in autumn 2011, and tested in January 2012.
The investigation was led by the French Land Transport Accident Investigation Bureau (Bureau d'Enquêtes sur les Accidents de Transport Terrestre) and supported by the British Rail Accident Investigation Branch. The report was published on 22 November 2010.
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