Although the official cause of September’s fire in the Channel Tunnel has yet to be determined, it’s highly likely that operators EuroTunnel will be reviewing whether to install some kind of suppression system on their open freight wagons. After the official report into the last major fire in 1996, EuroTunnel did conduct tests into a watermist suppression system but concluded that these were not operationally viable at the time.
Safety in the Channel Tunnel is regulated jointly by the French and UK governments under an intergovernmental commission. UK representatives to that commission are advised by the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority. When I spoke to EuroTunnel after last month’s fire, they told me that “cost has never been an issue when Channel Tunnel safety has been concerned”. But the reality is that under UK and French law, the commission can only require safety measures if they are “reasonably practicable”. In other words, like all risk management and safety issues, the cost of implementation is part of the decision process.