Channel trains ran as fumes filled a tunnel

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The Independent Online
Eurotunnel had no set procedures to deal with "dense exhaust smoke" which covered 15 miles of the Channel Tunnel's service tunnel in an incident in September last year, months before the fire which closed the tunnel last month.

All train services should have been suspended during the incident, which involved a diesel-powered service tunnel vehicle which runs on wheels. The service tunnel is the "safe haven" into which passengers can be evacuated if there is an incident.

A Health and Safety Executive report on railway safety for 1995-96 says: "While the smoke was not toxic, all trains should have been suspended because of the loss of the safe haven. Since their rules did not cover this eventuality, Eurotunnel continued to operate a normal night service." Eurotunnel had since amended emergency procedures.

Vic Coleman, Deputy Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways and a member of the Channel Tunnel safety authority, said that with regard to last month's tunnel fire, the safety authority would study further proposals from Eurotunnel before being able to approve a re-start of freight shuttle services.

Eurostar trains re-started on Wednesday. Car shuttle services will do so on Tuesday.

Fires on the railways around the country soared by nearly 40 per cent, and many were started deliberately according to the report.

Inadequate removal of litter and rubbish was the main cause of serious track and line-side fires. However, arson or vandalism was responsible for 121 of the 256 fires on trains during the period.

For the first time since 1978 a train fire resulted in a death, when a passenger jumped from a blazing train at Maidenhead, Berkshire, in September 1995, and was struck by a train on an adjacent track.

The total number of railway fires in 1995-96 was 425, a 39 per cent increase on the 1994-95 total. The number of train fires was only one less than the highest recorded in the previous five years. The report said acts of arson or vandalism, although increasing, were generally dealt with by train crews, ensuring "that most fires of this type were extinguished at an early stage".

A major cable fire at Birmingham New Street station was attributed to the ignition of litter "which should not have been allowed to accumulate". The report added: "Those responsible for the removal of litter should be aware of the potentially serious consequences of cost-cutting in this essential activity."

Numerous track-side fires happened in summer 1995 when vegetation was "tinder-dry". Few culprits were caught.

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