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Redesign calls for Channel Tunnel’s open shuttle trains after latest fire

Lord Berkeley has called on the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission to review the design of open shuttle trains that carry lorries through the Channel Tunnel. 

In a letter to Chris Irwin, head of the UK delegation to the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission, the Rail Freight Group chair said that a redesign may be necessary as Channel Tunnel lorry fire risk is now down to once every four years from an original design risk of one in 120 years. 

His letter comes days after the RAIB said it was working with the Bureau d’Enquetes sur les Accidents de Transport Terrestre (BEA-TT), the body responsible for the investigation of railway accidents in France, to jointly investigate the fire on board a Eurotunnel shuttle that led to a week of chaos in the Channel Tunnel. 

Lord Berkeley, who is also a member of RTM’s editorial board, wrote that the week-long delay in reopening the whole tunnel after this latest incident was due to further problems with the catenary in the tunnel.  

“I understand that there are concerns that the catenary is being damaged by wind buffeting caused by these lorry shuttles,” he said. “This is a new idea about which I only recently became aware, so I would be grateful if you could also comment on what evidence the IGC and Safety Authority has concerning this.” 

Similar incidents to the one that took place on 17 January also occurred in 1996, 2006, 2008 and 2009. Lord Berkeley added that whatever the reasons, there appears to be one common thread to these five incidents; “trucks in open wagons were involved and the planned mitigating measures to prevent the fire from causing damage or closures were not successful in preventing long periods of full or part closure”. 

He added that the after this latest fire there is sufficient evidence to justify the IGC and Safety Authority requiring Eurotunnel to come up “urgently” with a scheme to reduce the risk of such fires, and the consequent closure of the tunnel for extended periods, to an acceptable level. 

“We have now had five fires in 20 years, or a risk of one in four years.  This surely deserves a more general assessment of trends of risk and possible solutions,” said Lord Berkeley, who worked on the Channel Tunnel for Wimpey then Eurotunnel in the 1990s.   

“It would appear that one solution would be an alternative designs for the wagons to carry trucks – such that the trucks were enclosed, not subject to wind pressures in the tunnel, and with the space equipped with Halon or other extinguishing equipment.” 

(Image source: AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

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