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Tuesday, November 18, 1997 Published at 13:57 GMT


Chunnel trains 'safer than ever' - Eurotunnel

The 1996 fire started in an open-sided freight carriage

One year after a fire broke out in the Channel Tunnel, its owners have been defending their continued use of open-sided freight carriages.

New carriages, ordered before the blaze, have been brought in but are still not closed off.

John Noulton of Eurotunnel said: "If the new wagons had been in place before the fire, it would not have led to difficulties which forced the driver to make a controlled stop. He would have been able to continue his journey and exit the tunnel."

Thirty lorry drivers needed hospital treatment after being trapped in a fume-filled compartment on a freight shuttle train when fire broke out 12 miles out from the French coast last November.

Eurotunnel has introduced additional measures and changed procedures following the fire.

But the Consumers' Association said it was still worried about open-sided freight carriages, evacuation procedures and the non-segregation of passengers from cars on the tourist shuttle trains.

[ image: Consumer groups fear shuttle services are at risk, too]
Consumer groups fear shuttle services are at risk, too
"Both services are inherently dangerous if the wrong conditions occur," said its spokesman, Bob Tolliday.

But Eurotunnel said it was confident the steps it had taken made the tunnel "even safer than it was before the fire".

The CA said it was concerned about:

  • Open-sided carriages - Freight trains use this kind of carriage but the CA says it is not satisfied they are safe in the case of a fire.

  • Evacuation - The Association has doubts about the realism of evacuation tests carried out by Eurotunnel and is worried about how Eurotunnel would handle the total evacuation of any train.

  • Segregation - The CA believes that keeping cars, fuel and people in enclosed tourist shuttle wagons increases the risk of fire and the threat of casualties.

In May 1997, an official report into the fire from the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority made 36 safety recommendations after saying the fire had exposed "fundamental weaknesses" in safety systems.

The authority also said that insufficient training of Eurotunnel staff led to "errors and delays" in dealing with the blaze.

Eurotunnel said that most of the recommendations had been implemented and that ones not yet adopted involved "long-term infrastructure investment".

A Eurotunnel spokeswoman said: "We have learnt lessons from the fire and the main lessons were that our procedures and training could be improved and that some of our procedures were too complex.

"We are happy with our evacuation tests and convinced that tourist shuttle passengers staying with their vehicles is the best procedure. We have ordered more open-sided freight shuttles, but they have been modified and prototypes are now being tested."

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