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Eurostar health and safety

Eurostar accident: understanding rescue operations

As a frequent Eurostar client, I am much more interested in understanding the rescue procedure/communication issue for my future peace of meind, as I am sure the technical issue will be solved. I have combined information from railforum.co.uk (in particular thanks to Old Timer, boing_uk, O_L_Leigh, captainbigun, EM2 and 91101), other forums and people I know who were there.

Here is my recap of what happened (again – I am not discussing the technical root problem, just the process). Any further fact finding will be appreciated.

1. If one Eurostar fails in the tunnel, another train can be allowed in because they would have the potential to help.

2. Eurostar trains travel in “flights” of 3 trains relatively close to each other. When the first train failed in the South tunnel, the second and third had also probably already entered the same tunnel and stopped behind the first. At some point they also failed.

3. It is Eurotunnel (not Eurostar) who controls when and how many trains can enter the tunnel.

4. It is likely that ET thought the 2nd and 3rd train just stopped because the 1st had failed and not because of an “epidemic” issue. So the 4th and 5th have been rerouted to the North tunnel, and they both failed in there.

5. It takes time (30-60mins?) to fully investigate what’s wrong and declare that a train has failed and needs to be towed away.

6. The standard procedure would be that one Eurostar could push/pull another one to the exit. But with all sets failed, this was not possible. Most likely, 25kV supply also was off.

7. In this case ET uses diesel locomotives as rescue engines. Not any diesel locomotive is allowed in the tunnel, it has to be a specially modified because of the exhaust emissions. ET has 5 of these standing by for rescue purposes. Here is a photo: http://www.rtranmer.fotopic.net/p62576835.html

8. Connecting a Eurostar train to a standard locomotive requires a special connection kit that needs to be assembled to make an emergency coupler. This also requires more time. The rescue locomotives must have already part of the kit setup to speed up operations, but something still needs to be setup on the Eurostar trains.

9. All trains have onboard auxiliary batteries to provide emergency lighting and communication for several (?) hours. The batteries are also used to open/close doors. It would be extremely dangerous to let passengers out inside the tunnel at any time so doors have to remain shut, but they could be opened in case of fire.

10. Once a locomotive is connected, it takes time to pump air in the Eurostar. Pumped air is required to operate a number of parts (doors for ex) and in particular, brakes.

11. The tunnel is not flat, it’s shaped like a U (slightly W-ish to be exact). There is a gradient at all sections. So in order not to have all trains roll down in the middle section they had to put full brakes on. Once brakes are set, they cannot not be removed without power supply to pump air in.

So the whole operation has basically taken a lot of time.

12. The tunnel has a ventilation systems that is designed to remove smoke and provide clean air. The ventilation system itself is designed so that air is dispersed from the main
tunnels through the system, thus self ventilating. Thus, CO2 intoxication has never been a realistic scenario.

13. Eurostar HQ cannot talk to their staff inside the trains. Eurostar staff during emergency operations inside the tunnel is in exclusive contact with Eurotunnel staff. All decisions would be taken by Eurotunnel. But passenger communication is responsibility of Eurostar crew, which in turn probably didn’t know precisely what was happening and had to manage expectations. This has created usless stress and frustration but there has never been a risk of death.

14. One piece of information I cannot explain: some passengers have reported hearing a big “bang” in the dark. It could have been a “flashover”, like a lightning between the 25kV powerlines and the ground.

I’ll be following the results and further information in the coming days.

All in all, I as a customer still feel quite confident in the Eurostar service. On the other hand I am quite disgusted by Eurotunnel PR strategy of blaming others, and I still don’t see any professional reason for Eurotunnel to behave this way.

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