EUROPE: Eurotunnel has carried out a live test of a fire-fighting system under development for installation in the Channel Tunnel. Trials in Spain on April 7-9 demonstrated that water mist can contain the equivalent of a fire involving 40 cars on a Shuttle train, limiting or halting propagation.

The 'SAFE' fire-fighting stations are being designed under a November 2009 agreement between the tunnel operator and a consortium of Rodio, Fogtec, ACIS, Eiffage and Spie. The total cost is put at €20m. Eurotunnel expects four stations to be operational in 2011, subject to a full trial of a prototype this year and approval from the Intergovernmental Commission which oversees safety.

Loctaed on the landward sides of the two crossover caverns, each SAFE station will be 870 m long to accommodate a lorry shuttle train. If a fire occurs on a train which is too far into the tunnel to be driven to the nearest portal, the train can be stopped at the nearest station. Automatic heat sensors will detect where the fire is, and spray a water mist over the affected area.

Unlike sprinklers or foam this spray does not need to be accurately targeted at the fire. Instead it creates a shower of micro-droplets, absorbing oxygen and heat to suffocate the fire and prevent it reaching temperatures which could damage the infrastructure. 'Due to the ability to control the fire and the minimal amount of water used, structural damage is considerably reduced', according to Fogtec Managing Director Dirk Sprakel. It will also allow faster and more aggressive firefighting by the emergency services.

  • A review by the Intergovernmental Commission which oversees Channel Tunnel safety has concluded that operators seeking to run passenger trains shorter than the 375 m spacing of the cross-passages would have to agree specific evacuation procedures. Eurotunnel does not think this will be a problem, as trains can be stopped accurately and it gained experience of evacuating large numbers of people from trains and the tunnels during December's snow-related problems with Eurostar trainsets.

    The IGC has accepted that the current requirement for a train to be splittable provides 'no real safety benefit', and can be dropped. Other rule changes would enable trains meeting general TSI requirements for emergency alarms to use the tunnel, along with trains meeting national standards other than British and French ones, subject to TSI compliance.