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Aerial above limit 'almost certainly' caused Channel Tunnel fire

  • 11-13-2015

An aerial on a lorry that was above Eurotunnel's height limit "almost certainly" started a fire that shut the tunnel, investigators have said.

The blaze, which destroyed two lorries, broke out on 17 January.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said there was an electrical arc after the radio aerial came close to a power line near the UK entrance.

It said opportunities to stop the fire starting and to halt the shuttle when the fire was developing were "missed".

The RAIB is working with Bureau d'Enquetes sur les Accidents de Transport Terrestre (BEA-TT) to jointly investigate the blaze on the train.

'Developing fire'

The fire led to the closure of the 31-mile (50 km) tunnel, affecting 12,000 passengers and hundreds of hauliers.

Its report into the causes said a whip radio aerial that was above Eurotunnel's 4.2m height limit "almost certainly caused the electrical arc at the UK portal which initiated the fire" because of its proximity to the overhead power line.

It also revealed CCTV images showed smoke developing in the lorry's cab after the electrical arc caused power supplies to trip.

"However, as there was no requirement for the train to be inspected, this early sign of a developing fire was not identified. It was 23 minutes later that the fire was detected.

"In the meantime, opportunities to stop the train within one of the two SAFE stations had been missed."

Timeline of the tunnel fire

An over-height lorry radio aerial "almost certainly" causes an electrical arc near the UK tunnel entrance at 11:00 GMT.

The arc trips the power supply and the train comes to a halt.

CCTV captures smoke developing in a lorry cab.

Driver is given permission to restart the train at a reduce speed.

At 11:23 GMT a fire alarm near the middle of the tunnel activates and the power supply goes off for a second time.

The driver brings the train to a controlled stop about 16km from the French entrance.

All 38 passengers and three members of staff are evacuated into the service tunnel by 11:37 GMT.

About an hour later firefighters start tackling the two lorries which are on fire.

The blaze is brought under control at about 15:40 GMT.

The RAIB said the sensors designed to detect aerials above the height limit were not sensitive enough and Eurotunnel loading agents thought the aerial on the lorry was "standing higher than normal" but did not take action because the vehicle had passed through the detection system.

It said although staff could not have been expected to "reliably detect thin aerials", an opportunity to stop the train was missed.

The report said Eurotunnel had "taken actions intended to reduce the probability of the recurrence of a similar incident".

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2015 BBC


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