30 years of the Channel Tunnel: the secrets of an extraordinary security system

30 years of the Channel Tunnel: the secrets of an extraordinary security system
30 years of the Channel Tunnel: the secrets of an extraordinary security system

Nearly 400 trains pass every day through the longest underwater tunnel in the world, between France and the United Kingdom.

An impressive surveillance system is in place to ensure the safety of travelers.

A TF1 team was able to discover behind the scenes of this extraordinary system.

Follow the full coverage

The 1 p.m.

Today, it is a journey that no longer has anything exceptional. But, 30 years ago, taking the Channel Tunnel via Eurostar to connect France and the United Kingdom constituted a small revolution. Its reliability has been built year after year, in particular thanks to the expertise of women and men who have built an entire system ensuring the safety of travelers. It starts right in the driver’s cabin. “As soon as there is a problem or any smoke that could occur, the mechanism warns us directly“, specifies Sacha Renault, one of these train drivers inside the tunnel.

Escape doors throughout the tunnel

At the slightest incident, the train stops. Throughout the 50 kilometers of the tunnel, agents, like Rémy Spilleman, patrol in specially designed vehicles. “We carry out inspections to detect possible leaks“, he explains in the TF1 1 p.m. report to be found at the top of this article. Everything must be operational, day and night: the safety of travelers depends on it. The last major incident within the site dates back to the fire of September 11, 2008. It broke out five kilometers from the entrance to the tunnel. Six people were slightly injured, but a more serious disaster was avoided thanks to the service tunnel.

How does this exit system parallel to the railway tracks actually work? Between the two circulation tubes, the service tunnel in the middle acts like an air bubble. As soon as smoke is detected, two emergency doors open, creating a draft of air. The fumes are expelled, which gives time to evacuate travelers. “There are 135 evacuation doors for each tunnel, making 270 in totalunderlines Laurent Brottier, catenary energy manager of the infrastructure. No matter where you are in the tunnelyou will inevitably find doors to exit the train.

Giant mister

Since 2010, another security device has been installed. It is a sort of giant mist sprayer, which covers the entire tunnel. It is triggered at the slightest flame, suddenly lowers the temperature, then stops the spread of the fire. Enough to greatly facilitate the intervention of firefighters. “Thanks to 180 kilometers of pipes, 22,000 cubic meters of water circulate permanently in the railway tunnels“, explains Sébastien Feutry, manager of the site’s cooling plant.

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Since 2008, the Channel Tunnel has not experienced any major incidents. Since its opening, nearly 480 million passengers have taken this route. Today, nearly 400 trains pass under the Channel thanks to this construction.


TA | TF1 report Nicolas ROBERTSON and Iker ZABALA

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