George Young – 1996 Statement on the Channel Tunnel Fire

Below is the text of the speech made by George Young, the then Secretary of State for Transport, in the House of Commons on 19 November 1996.

At approximately 8.45 pm GMT yesterday, a fire broke out in a lorry on board a Eurotunnel freight shuttle inside the channel tunnel between Calais and Folkestone. The shuttle was carrying 29 heavy goods vehicles with 31 drivers and companions, plus three crew members. The shuttle, on its way from France, had a French driver and crew. It stopped 12 miles through its journey on the French side of the tunnel.

Emergency services, firefighters and ambulances, arrived at the scene within 20 minutes and helped evacuate everyone on board the shuttle. Twenty-eight were taken back to France by a tourist shuttle travelling in the untouched northern tunnel, and six were evacuated by the service tunnel transport system. Eight people were taken to hospital, two of whom were detained, including the driver of the shuttle; their condition is reported to be serious but not life threatening. I understand that both will be discharged today.

French and British fire brigades worked through the night to bring the fire under control. The emergency is now over. I am sure that the House will want to join me in congratulating the emergency services on the way in which they coped with the incident and in expressing relief that there were no fatalities.

The French authorities have already begun a formal inquiry. That is for them since the incident happened in the French part of the tunnel. Eurotunnel’s own investigation is under way. In addition, the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority, which includes representatives from this country and France, will be making its own inquiry into the incident and studying the reports from the operators and the French authorities. The safety authority’s findings will be made public. I shall be urging my French counterpart, Mr. Pons, to ensure that the French authorities publish their findings as soon as they properly can so that the lessons of this incident can be learnt by all concerned.

In the meantime, it would be wrong to speculate on the causes of the fire. I can assure the House, however, that representatives of the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority are on site and will not allow either passenger or freight operations to recommence until Eurotunnel can prove that that can be done safely.