Channel Tunnel to Remain Closed After Fire

The Channel Tunnel between Britain and France is set to remain closed today, prolonging travel disruption for more than 20,000 people, after a fire broke out yesterday in the rail link Bloomberg.

``We have to inspect the south tunnel,'' which was not affected by the fire, Mady Chabrier, a spokeswoman for tunnel operator Groupe Eurotunnel SA, said in a telephone interview late yesterday. She said the company would need to get clearance from public authorities before opening any of the double-bore undersea structure.

Eurostar, the operator of trans-Channel passenger trains, said it doesn't expect to run any services today. ``We don't have a definitive answer on when services will resume,'' spokesman Gareth Headon said in a telephone interview.

Thirty-two passengers on a shuttle train were evacuated from the French side of the north tunnel after the blaze broke out yesterday on a truck aboard one of the vehicle-bearing railcars. Fourteen people suffered minor injuries, including smoke inhalation, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Hundreds of trucks were stranded in miles-long traffic jam at both entrances to the tunnel. British authorities redirected vehicles and passengers to cross-Channel ferry services.

Operating losses resulting from the accident are covered by insurance, Eurotunnel said in an e-mailed statement today. Three other trains that were inside the tunnel at the time of the accident were turned around and directed back to the Folkestone side, Eurotunnel said.

``If the second tunnel is undamaged, we may be able to restore partial capacity quite rapidly'' with about half the usual number of trains, company spokesman Yves Szrama said yesterday.

Trains carried more than 4.6 million people through the tunnel in the first half of 2008, with Eurostar operating 18 services a day between London's St. Pancras station and Paris and Brussels. Almost 1,500 freight trains also used the link.

The Channel Tunnel was closed for two weeks in 1996 after a fire on the shuttle, prompting Eurotunnel to promise improved safety with more inspections and new water sprinklers. Later that year, the link was closed again due to a fire on a truck. Thirty people were evacuated and there were no injuries, with the line reopening after a matter of hours.

A track-side fire in south London closed the line for a day in March last year, disrupting travel for 10,500 people.

Eurotunnel fell as much as 4.1 percent in Paris trading yesterday after the fire broke, closing 30 cents, or 3.2 percent, lower at 9 euros. The stock has declined 9 percent this year, valuing the company at 1.71 billion euros ($2.4 billion).Eurostar, which said its trains weren't involved in the fire, isn't publicly traded and is jointly owned by French state rail operator SNCF, Belgian counterpart SNCB and London & Continental Railways.

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