Calls for Chunnel to stay closed until made safer

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The Independent Online
The Channel Tunnel will be closed at least until Monday according to SNCF, the French railway company. There have been calls that it should remain shut until new safety measures are introduced.

The continued delay places the financial future of Eurotunnel in jeopardy as it will lose a million pounds a day in revenue and, possibly more importantly, public confidence in the project.

The announcement by SNCF came amid growing fears that severe devastation has been caused to the northbound tunnel and that smoke may have also damaged signalling and controls on the Southbound side.

The fire on Monday night occurred near one of the tunnel's two crossover points and it is thought that smoke could have penetrated onto the other line but Eurotunnel refused to comment on the extent of damage last night apart from calling it "severe".

John Whitwell, deputy secretary of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said that the tunnel was lined with 290mm thick concrete, heavily reinforced with steel, and that this will have fallen off. He said that a similar fire in the Storebaelt tunnel in Denmark had caused extensive damage and much cracking of concrete. The worst problem would be cleaning off the soot: "The soot will cake on conductors and signalling equipment, which will take a very long time to clean off." He said it was likely that the northbound tunnel would take months to repair.

For most of yesterday, Eurotunnel's own engineering teams and officials from the Inter-Governmental Safety Commission met in Calais to discuss the conditions of the tunnel but refused to grant Eurotunnel permission to run any services.

While the undamaged part of the train has been taken out at the Folkestone end, the wrecked section of 14 wagons will be taken out in France today after the wheels have been separated from the rails to which they have become welded. The company may attempt to take it out at night to avoid the world's cameras focussing on the sight which will be of great embarrassment to the troubled company.

Firefighters urged the Government to keep the channel tunnel closed until strict new safety measures were enforced. Ken Cameron, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, accused management of "complacency".

The firefighters' leader set out three principles for the safe operation of the route including the introduction of enclosed rolling stock for transporting lorries rather than the present open cage-like trucks.

Mr Cameron called for the tunnel to come under the jurisdiction of the Health and Safety Executive - an independent agency funded by the British government - rather than the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority which operated under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Committee.

Mr Cameron's call was backed by Colin Brown, deputy research director of Consumers' Association, who said: "The operating licence for both freight and car-carrying shuttle services should be suspended until major safety problems are solved".

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