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EUROTUNNEL SEEKS SAFER PATH

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LONDON-Eurotunnel P.L.C. is issuing new equipment, policies and procedures for its safety management systems following its investigation into last November's fire in the Channel Tunnel.

The tunnel operator unveiled a range of changes to its operations, most of which will be in place by the time the damaged tunnel has been repaired, scheduled for the middle of next month.

Two other investigations into the cause of the fire, one a French judicial inquiry and another by the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, an Anglo-French agency, are yet to be released.

The fire caused an estimated 40 million pound ($64.8 million) to 50 million pounds($81 million) in damage to the tunnel alone (BI, Nov. 25, 1996).

Eurotunnel carries 350 million ECU ($396.3 million) coverage for material damage and business interruption, led by Union des Assurances de Paris, and 32 million ECU ($36.2 million) for rail cars, led by Chubb Insurance Co. of Europe S.A.

Replacing the damaged train, comprising 15 wagons and a loco-motive, is costing between 10 million pounds ($16.2 million) and 12 million pound ($19.4 million), said a Euro-tunnel spokeswoman, who anti-cipated third-party claims for busi-ness interruption and loss of vehicles to be less than 5 million pounds ($8.1 mil-lion).

Business interruption costs for Eurotunnel, which before the fire was scheduling about 200 train shipments each day, cannot be calculated until heavy goods vehicle services resume. Although passenger services resumed

16 days after the incident, HGV services will not resume until mid-June at the earliest.

The spokeswoman said that the total insured loss was unlikely to be greater than 200 million pounds ($324 million).

The fire started in an open-sided rail transport carrying heavy goods vehicles to England from France, possibly started by a torch thrown onto the train by French strikers.

Half a train was destroyed, and 31 passengers and three crew members had to be led to safety through a service tunnel.

The French judicial inquiry already has acknowledged Eurotunnel equipment did not cause the fire, though the tunnel operator did admit in its own inquiry that there were "avoidable delays," partly because of complicated procedures and partly because of communications shortcomings.

Eurotunnel's report, prepared by its own Health, Safety and Quality Directorate, highlights a range of improvements to be made.

Equipment changes include:

Moving fire detector monitoring panels from the Fire Equipment Management Centre at each end of the tunnel to the Rail Control Centre, an operations center in Folkestone responsible for controlling rail traffic.

Securing overhead cables in the tunnel to protect cable connections from the heat from a fire.

Printing a reminder of the emergency call procedure on crew radios.

Fluorescent paint and better lighting to improve the visibility of tunnel markings.

The club car, where HGV drivers sit on the journey through the tunnel, will be fully sealed to prevent smoke from getting in.

HGV drivers in the club car will be provided with smoke hoods.

Water sprinklers will be installed. Eurotunnel is still preparing its request for bids on the sprinkler systems and is not expecting them to be ready before the end of the year.

Policy changes resulting from the investigation are:

Once the first fire alarm has sounded, the tunnel will be put on emergency alert. If a second alarm sounds, the train will be evacuated, unless it is close to an exit. Current procedure requires two or more types of alarm to sound to trigger emergency procedures.

Evacuating passengers now will take priority over uncoupling the locomotive and club car to continue to journey out of the tunnel.

Eurotunnel also is aiming to implement a number of procedural changes, including:

More systematic checks of vehicles during the loading process and more staff surveillance at the tunnel entrances.

The train's conductor, rather than driver, now will be responsible for evacuating the train.

As soon as the first alarm rings, fire safety procedures such as activating supplementary ventilation will be initiated.

In addition, Eurotunnel is upgrading its training procedures and redeploying staff to beef up the Rail Control Centre at an estimated yearly cost of 1.5 million pounds($2.4 million). Railway controllers, train crews and FEMC staff now will receive initial fire training, as well training in simulations of the Rail Control Centre, service tunnel and passages linking the service tunnel with the main rail tunnels.

A Eurotunnel spokeswoman estimated the costs of improvements will be about 15 million pounds ($24.3 million). Although the spokeswoman could not give details, she said installing the sprinkler system throughout the tunnel will lower Eurotunnel's insurance premiums.

"The reduction in insurance costs will pay for the installation of the system over a number of years," she added.