U.K. Rail Reliability Suffers

A freight shuttle bound for France was cause for the Channel Tunnel to be closed when smoke was detected coming from a refrigerated unit onboard the train. Passenger and freight services were halted on August 21st but began returning to normal by the next day. Officials said smoke was detected but there were no flames and no injuries. A total of 34 people were safely evacuated from the freight train and all other trains exited the tunnel.

The Channel Tunnel was closed for months in 1996 when a fire broke out on a freight train. That fire, which injured eight people and led to millions of dollars of damages was later determined to be deliberately set by vandals.

Though the recent disruption to services through the Channel Tunnel were short lived, larger problems loom for British railways, according to a new report. The Office of Rail Regulation noted that freight moved in the quarter ended June 2006 rose 5.5% to 22.3 billion net tonne kilometers, its highest since the early 1970s. “Growth in both passenger and freight markets poses a challenge to the industry,” the report said. With the network is becoming more congested, the regulatory body urged efficient and affordable plans be developed to cope with realistic projections of demand (estimated to grow 30% in the next decade). National freight route utilization strategies will play a key part, but investment in targeted increases in network capacity and capability are also likely.

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