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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fire Damage Delays Chunnel Reopening for Months

LONDON -- Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel acknowledged Sunday it may be three months before the tunnel can resume operating fully because of damage from a freight train that caught fire.

Eurotunnel spokeswoman Dominique Maire told radio France Culture on Sunday that repairs may take up to three months. But no decision has been taken on when to fully reopen the 50-kilometer tunnel, she said.

Eurotunnel officials are currently meeting officials from the Safety Authority, a panel of experts from Britain and France, "and we will not reestablish the travel [of Eurostar passenger trains] until we arrive at a consensus with them,'' Maire said.

"The discussions are underway. Alternative scenarios are also being studied.''

Monday night's fire, which left eight people overcome by smoke fumes, was the Chunnel's first serious accident since it opened two years ago and raised questions about the tunnel's safety.

Britain's Independent on Sunday newspaper said heat from the fire so damaged some of the concrete segments which form the tunnel that they will have to be removed and replaced. During the fire, chunks of the concrete lining the tunnel fell away because of the heat.

The process of replacing these segments is such an intricate engineering operation that Eurotunnel has admitted that Eurostar trains and Le Shuttle car freight trains will be unable to make full use of both tunnels until the spring, the paper said.

It quoted John Noulton, Eurotunnel's director of public affairs, as saying repairs could take longer than three months.

"That estimate includes clearing away the remains of the shuttle train, replacing fixed equipment and replacing and repairing part of the tunnel,'' he was quoted as saying.

The paper said replacing the concrete segments and damaged cables and electrical equipment in the tunnel will cost at least ?200 million ($340 million).

The Chunnel has two rail tunnels and a service tunnel. The rail tunnels, with a diameter of 7.6 meters, are built from rings each 1.5 meters long, formed from interlocking concrete segments.

The Chunnel's lone undamaged rail tunnel opened for freight train service Thursday. But passenger trains as well as truck and car shuttles remained banned.