EUROTUNNEL HAS started a two-year programme to re-rail the Channel Tunnel just five and a half years after it opened to commercial traffic.
Eurotunnel technical director David Pointon said studies carried out over the last year had shown that the tunnel's 100km of rails would be life expired after carrying 650M gross tonnes of traffic. He added that the tunnel was already carrying more than 100M gross tonnes of traffic a year - five times more than Britain's next busiest railway, the West Coast Main Line.
'We are probably the heaviest used railway in the world,' he said. 'To complete the re-railing on time we have to start the programme now.'
A first practice possession to renew rails was carried out by French contractor Spie Drouard two weeks ago. This finished one hour late but Spie escaped the 'substantial' financial penalties which will apply to any possession overruns from now on.
It was unrealistic to expect the work to be finished without teething problems, said Pointon.
The bulk of the work will be carried out in two ten-week campaigns starting in January next year and in January 2001 - the tunnel's least busy time of the year. Work will be carried out in eight-hour night possessions.
'The tunnel's cross passages allow us to keep a line open as we would for normal maintenance work,' said Pointon.