Freight News, Road

Channel Tunnel shuttle design needs a rethink, says Rail Freight Group chief

[ January 30, 2015   //   ]

Rail Freight Group chairman Tony Berkeley has written to the Channel Tunnel Inter Governmental Commission asking them to review the design of the open lorry shuttle trains,following the fire that plunged operations into chaos on 17 January. He said that it was the fifth fire almost certainly caused by lorries, and had caused “massive disruption to passenger and freight traffic” for a week.

Earlier fires had led to the tunnel being partly closed for several months while damage was repaired.

Planned mitigating measures to prevent the fire from causing damage or closures had not been successful in preventing long periods of full or part closure, he said.

Berkeley added that the design of the lorry shuttles also caused other problems as the result of the further problems as the catenary (overhead power lines) in the tunnel is being damaged by wind buffeting.

In a debate on the closure in the House of Lords on 22 January the minister responded to concerns raised by a number of peers about the design of the open wagons saying that carrying lorries in enclosed wagons would be “commercial suicide”.

However, said Berkeley, “it is not clear whether this is the official position of the UK Government, or the IGC, and this clearly needs clarifying; in particular, where is the evidence to back up this assertion”

The IGC should have a view on the balance between profit and keeping an important fixed link open, he said.

The IGC and Safety Authority should require Eurotunnel to come up urgently with a scheme to reduce the risk of fires. The initial risk assessment when the tunnel opened was for a fire to occur once in 120 years, but there had now been five in 20 years, or one every four years.

One solution would be an alternative design that enclosed the trucks and with the space equipped with Halon or other extinguishing equipment.

This might make the shuttle wagons heavier which in turn might mean that the maximum weight of trucks would have to be reduce to below 44 tonnes. Berkeley concluded: “I doubt that this would reduce traffic much, since I understand that most trucks crossing Channel bulk out before they weight out.”