The Channel Tunnel (French: Le tunnel sous la Manche), also known as Chunnel or Eurotunnel, is a 50.5-kilometre (31.4 mi) undersea rail tunnel linking the United Kingdom and France, running beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover. The tunnel connects Folkestone, Kent in England to Coquelles near Calais in northern France and at its lowest point is 246 feet deep . It has the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world (Japan's Seikan Tunnel is longer overall (33.49 miles) and reaches a depth of 787 feet).
The tunnel carries high-speed Eurostar passenger railway services, Eurotunnel Shuttle RORO vehicle transport and international rail freight trains. In 1996 the American Society of Civil Engineers identified the tunnel as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
World News : Channel tunnel caused serious damage???
PARIS: The Channel Tunnel that links Britain and the Continent was closed Friday after an overnight blaze that reached temperatures as high as 1,800 degrees.
The fire, which broke out on Thursday on a France-bound freight shuttle train carrying trucks, may have started on one of the trucks, safety officials said. The fire was not extinguished until Friday, said Mady Chabrier, a spokeswoman for the operator, Eurotunnel.
The closing raised new questions about how such incidents could occur, especially after previous fires in the tunnel. The fire threatened to disrupt services for several weeks in the tunnel, which is used by truckers as well as by tens of thousands of tourists and business people every day.
Reports on Thursday afternoon suggested that damage and disruption were not heavy. But by Friday morning, officials said it had taken firefighters most of the night to douse the flames, and a truck driver told French news media that he and others had narrowly escaped.
"Because it's a tunnel, it works like an oven," Chabrier said. "I guess the concrete has suffered and the iron inside of the tunnel, and we have to check now what the situation is."
Eurotunnel said 32 passengers on the train, most of them truckers, escaped after being evacuated into the maintenance tunnel.
Six people were taken to a hospital in Calais suffering from smoke inhalation. There were no reports of more serious injuries.
The temperature inside the north tunnel, where the fire occurred, remained high on Friday afternoon. French officials said the fire was probably accidental. The exact cause is under investigation.
The link consists of two tunnels that carry freight and passenger trains in opposite directions, and a third tunnel used for maintenance and evacuations.
So far, the closing of the tunnel is the longest since 1996, when a fire shut down freight and passenger services for two weeks and kept the tunnel partly closed for months.
That blaze resulted from a fire on a truck, as did another episode in 2006, according to safety officials.
"There are a lot of questions to be asked, particularly about whether the truck tipped over in some way, or whether it was carrying flammable chemicals," Christian Wolmar, a journalist and leading commentator on transportation issues, said of the most recent fire.
But he said there might be little more that British and French authorities could do to ensure safety on the undersea system without hampering cross-channel trade and transportation.
"There is a trade-off between safety and cost," Wolmar said. "I can't imagine there are easy-to-do measures that would enhance safety further without disproportionate cost."
The French ground-transportation accident-investigation bureau, known by its French acronym, Bea-tt, was taking the lead in the investigation into the fire, according to a spokesman for the British Secretariat to the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority.
In coming weeks, trains will probably run in both directions using only the south tunnel, Chabrier said.
The train was nearly seven miles from Coquelles, France, where the 31-mile tunnel ends, near the port of Calais, when the fire broke out.
Eurostar, the company that provides passenger rail service through the tunnel, said it hoped to be able to begin running a limited service starting Saturday. Freight trains began rolling again late Friday night, the Associated Press reported.