Official: Tunnel services to be hit for months

Full Channel Tunnel services will take several months to resume following last week's fire, it was revealed today.

Tunnel organiser Eurotunnel was running around a third of normal services on the 50km Folkestone to Calais link today.

This severely-restricted service will continue until Thursday when Eurotunnel will announce new schedules.

But a Eurotunnel spokesman said: "It will take several months before everything is back to normal.

"This was a serious fire that went on for 16-17 hours and the necessary repairs will take a lot of time."

All forms of tunnel traffic - passenger and freight shuttles, through-freights trains and London to Paris and Brussels high-speed Eurostar trains - were operating today.

But Eurostar, for example, was only able to operate about three trains every two hours instead of the normal service of three-to-four trains an hour.

All traffic was going through the south tunnel with the north - the scene of last week's blaze on a French-bound train - remaining shut.

A Eurotunnel spokesman said: "Mid-September is neither a particularly peak-time nor trough-time period for us so it's still fairly busy without being as busy as it would be, say, at the height of the summer holiday period.

"We have busier times coming up, such as the school half-term holiday, and we will try to have as many services as possible coming during these periods."

A total of 32 lorry drivers and train staff fled to safety after the fire broke out on Thursday afternoon, with six suffering smoke inhalation injuries.

As many as 200 French and 100 British firefighters worked in cramped conditions as the fire burned at temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees centigrade before it was finally extinguished on Friday morning.

Fire investigators are likely to examine the presence of a lorry carrying highly flammable carbolic acid, or phenol, which it is claimed overturned.

Conservative MEP and transport spokesman Timothy Kirkhope has demanded a full inquiry from the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority on chemicals in the tunnel.

In 1996 the tunnel ran a limited service for many months after a serious fire caused £200 million of damage.

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