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Fire on board a freight shuttle in the Channel Tunnel, 17 January 2015
This is an update of the web entry published on 28 January 2015

RAIB is 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 a fire on-board a train in the Channel Tunnel. Since the train stopped in the French section of the tunnel, the investigation will be led by BEA-TT.

The fire completely consumed two trucks that were being conveyed on the shuttle, and caused damage to rolling stock, railway infrastructure and the tunnel lining. It also severely disrupted services through the Channel Tunnel for several days.

At 12:00 hrs (CET) on Saturday 17 January 2015, Eurotunnel freight shuttle 7340 was entering the UK portal of the Channel Tunnel when an electric arc occurred between the overhead power line and the train in proximity to a truck being carried on the 15th (out of 32) carrier wagons (each carrier wagon is designed to carry one truck or a number of smaller commercial vehicles). It is probable that this initial arcing event led to the subsequent fire on the trucks.

The electrical arc led to the power supply tripping due to operation of electrical protection devices, and shuttle 7340 came to a stand inside the tunnel. The power was re-instated 26 seconds after it had tripped and the control centre gave the driver of shuttle 7340 permission to restart its journey, but at a reduced speed of 100 km/h (instead of the normal speed of 140 km/h).

At 12:22 hrs, the control centre received a fire alarm from a detector located within the tunnel approximately 29 km from the UK portal (21 km from the French portal). At the same time, an on-board fire alarm system on shuttle 7340 detected a fire, which the driver reported to the control centre. Shortly afterwards, the power supply to the overhead line tripped for a second time.

At that moment, the shuttle had already entered the last SAFE station in the Running Tunnel North and it was too late to brake the train to a stand within it. SAFE stations are two areas in each running tunnel, approximately 870 metres long and fitted with a water mist system that is designed to control a fire on a stationary train. Without electrical power, the driver of shuttle 7340 had to make a controlled stop in the tunnel. The driver brought the shuttle to a stand such that the amenity coach, which is located immediately behind the leading locomotive, was adjacent to cross-passage 4418 (which is approximately 16 km from the French portal). Cross-passages are located at frequent intervals throughout the system and connect the running tunnels with the adjacent service tunnel, which provides a safe haven in case of fire. By now the rear of the train had cleared the end of the last SAFE station by approximately 750 metres, and hence the station was not activated.

All 38 passengers and 3 members of staff were travelling in the amenity coach. Once the door in the cross-passage 4418 had been opened by the control centre, evacuation into the service tunnel commenced at 12:30 hrs. This was reported to be complete by 12:37 hrs.

By 13:35 hrs, all other trains had exited the tunnels and firefighting operations were commencing. The passengers and crew of shuttle 7340 departed from the service tunnel at 14:03 hrs and were taken to the French terminal of the Channel Tunnel system. Two trucks on the shuttle were confirmed to be on fire by the firefighting services. The fire was brought under control at 16:40 hrs but it still required several hours of dousing to cool the shuttle down afterwards.

Shuttle 7340 consisted of a leading locomotive, followed by the amenity coach, a flat-bed loading wagon, a set of 16 carrier wagons without pagodas (a roof structure which covers the leading end of a wagon), another flat-bed loading wagon, a set of 16 carrier wagons with pagodas, another flat-bed loading wagon and the trailing locomotive. All of the carrier wagons were loaded with a truck or van, other than the last wagon of each set of 16 which remained unloaded. The two trucks which were consumed by fire during the incident were on the 14th and 15th carrier wagon (ie the rear-most trucks on the leading set of carrier wagons).


 
Eurotunnel damage 1
Image showing damage to one of the trucks (both are still located on the carrier wagons)
Eurotunnel damage 2
Image showing damage to the second truck. Image has been lightened for clarity.

By 03:45 hrs on Sunday 18 January 2015, commercial operations in the Channel Tunnel using the Running Tunnel South had resumed. The incident train was authorised to be removed from the Running Tunnel North and was hauled out of the tunnel by 14:45 hrs on the same day.

 

The joint investigation will aim to establish the sequence of events and factors that led to the fire. It will review the history of the design of the type of carrier wagon involved, seek to understand how the event was managed and assess the effectiveness of tunnel systems and procedures.

RAIB and BEA-TT understand that Eurotunnel is reviewing the procedures that are applied following an arcing event near the entrance of the tunnel, with the intention of reducing the consequences of any fire that may have resulted. Eurotunnel is also considering other control measures to reduce the probability of arcing events of this type.

RAIB and BEAT-TT will publish the findings, including any recommendations to improve safety, at the conclusion of the joint investigation. The report will be published in both English and French.

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