A reputation for expertise and innovation

It is a daily challenge to ensure the faultless maintenance of an infrastructure as complex as the Channel Tunnel and of rolling stock handling the world’s highest density of traffic, while minimising costs and downtimes. It also represents a wonderful incentive to invent new structures, processes and tools.

120 million tonnes per year:
the Eurotunnel tracks are amongst
the most heavily used in the world

In addition to being the world’s longest undersea railway tunnel, the Eurotunnel network is also setting records in terms of its operations. More than 270 trains run each day, representing one train every 3 minutes at peak times. The Truck Shuttles carry up to 32 heavy goods vehicles, each weighing up to 44 tonnes. These 800-metre long trains run at 140 kph. The Passenger Shuttles travel at the same speed and transport up to 120 cars and 12 coaches. The Eurostar trains travel at 160 kph below the sea. Some of the Freight Shuttles weigh in at 2,500 tonnes.

All this makes extreme demands on the equipment. For instance, in 16 years of operations, all the Tunnel’s rails (excluding points) have already been changed twice. Their quality is not at issue: they simply wear out much quicker than in conventional networks due to the unique load they carry – the highest in the world – with around 120 million tonnes each year.

Reliability, safety, availability

Keeping the infrastructure and facilities in excellent condition to meet the highest reliability and safety standards, at a cost respecting the company’s profitability targets, represents a challenge not only at a technological and economic level, but also in terms of organisation. Indeed, the primary goal is to optimise the availability of facilities and equipment, anticipating breakdowns and devising solutions so that the infrastructures can be maintained with minimal disruption to traffic.

Industrialising maintenance

These constraints have represented a major incentive for Eurotunnel. With the experience built up over 15 years and the implementation of numerous innovations, the group has become a globally recognised expert in railway maintenance. Many rail infrastructure managers and operators, as well as professionals from other business sectors, regularly visit our workshops, and we are delighted to share our know-how in this area with them.

Eurotunnel has an original approach to maintenance. Handled like any other industrial activity, the “Maintenance Production Plan” sets out the scheduling and launch of operations, covering seven different types of maintenance. This methodology, which is based on a very clear organisation and a detailed description of each process, has made it possible to continuously improve performance in terms of reliability, availability and productivity since 2002. In 10 years, rolling stock maintenance staffing levels have been cut from 500 people to 355, while at the same time, the fleet to be maintained has virtually doubled, representing around 1,000 rail vehicles today.

Stringent monitoring of wear and tear on wheels

In Coquelles, when the trains are brought in to be serviced in the world’s longest workshop (825 metres), on one of the two track sections built on pilings, each wheel is scanned by the Wheel Measurement System (WMS), which takes a series of measurements. The accuracy and frequency of these measurements make it possible to anticipate maintenance needs before the wheels’ characteristics start to approach acceptable limits. In this way, the under-floor lathe for wheel reprofiling can be scheduled, ensuring that this does not affect the equipment’s availability for commercial services. In addition, this forward-looking approach makes it possible to extend the lifespan of the rolling stock and by extension, the lifespan of the rails.

Further advances are being made, with Eurotunnel planning to fit WMS systems on the tunnel’s rails in order to examine the state of the wheels in operation, particularly on trains from other rail operators. Eurotunnel will then be able to ask them to carry out repairs that will make it possible to prevent early wear and tear on the rails.

Wheel reprofiling operation
in the under-floor lathe

Partnering the i-trans competitive pole

The work, carried out in cooperation with various industrial and scientific players from the region (Corus, RailTech, Sculfort, Outreau Technologies, RFF, Ecole des Mines de Douai, INSA-Lyon), is focusing on 4 areas: the materials and geometries of tomorrow for extending rail life; new welding; and the tracks of tomorrow.

A full-scale test stand

Extending the lifespan of rails represents a major concern for Eurotunnel, on account of the intensity of its traffic. Since its creation, the company has therefore been involved in the i-trans competitive pole, which groups together leading rail and land transport players from industry, research and training in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie Regions. Within this framework, Eurotunnel is heading up the TTSA or Track Train System Availability project, which is developing techniques and products to increase rail infrastructure availability. This programme has a €6 million budget, including €240,000 contributed by the group. Eurotunnel is making its network’s and the world’s only full-scale test stand available for the TTSA project. Since the end of 2007, an experimental rail has been laid on 1,200 metres of track, also using a new welding technique. Every two months, the industrial and scientific players who developed these innovations come to examine how they are performing in situ, under the most demanding real-life operating conditions. The first results are proving to be positive: unlike conventional equipment, which needs to be ground very regularly, after 18 months of testing the new rail has not yet required any grinding at all.

A new alloy, replacing the traditional “manganese steel”, has also been developed for the railcores. It will be tested over the next few months, initially on external facilities, which are easier to access, then inside the Tunnel.

Adapting the locomotives and Truck Shuttles to growth of the market

Fourty five 7 MW locomotives
by 2013

Looking beyond the current economic environment, the cross-Channel transport market for trucks is expected to see sustained growth over the medium term. In order to meet the needs of this expansion, Eurotunnel will be able to add to its timetable, offering up to 7 or 8 departures every hour and already increasedg the number of wagons from 30 to 32 on the majority of Truck Shuttles .

In view of this, the decision was taken to continue with the programme to increase the power of the specialised Brush/ Bombardier locomotives for powering the Shuttles. Up until 2000, this fleet was made up of 51 5.6 MW machines. Since then, it has been strengthened with 7 better performing 7 MW locomotives. Out of the 51 initial machines, 20 were then upgraded to 7 MW, while 13 underwent their mid-life heavy maintenance, staying at 5.6 MW. In 2008, it was decided to upgrade the 18 remaining locomotives to 7 MW. This operation requires 6 months of work for each locomotive at the manufacturers, notably to replace the principal transformer, the 3 converters and the 6 traction motors. In 2013, following this €90 million programme, the fleet will be made up of 45 7 MW locomotives and 13 5.6 MW machines.

Alongside this, Eurotunnel has launched various studies to design new truck carrying wagons in order to supplement the fleet and gradually replace models reaching the end of their lifespans. These third-generation wagons are expected to be fitted with a harder wearing floor. The technological choices will naturally be taken after consulting with and being approved by the Intergovernmental Commission’s Safety Authority.