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Eurostar's Star is Tarnished -- Many Stuck in the undersea tunnel

The Rover

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The breakdown of six trains and the subsequent closure of the Eurostar service for three days highlights two areas of concern for the train company.

Monday, 21 December 2009


And other travel Horror stories here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8424973.stm

First there was a major technical problem which so far remains partly unexplained, but then there was the complete lack of urgency about the remedial measures, both to deal with the passengers on the broken down trains but also to help those whose journeys have been affected.

The technical aspects of this affair will take a long time to unravel.

Five northbound trains broke down within a few hours of each other, all in the Channel Tunnel, an unprecedented event which clearly requires a detailed investigation.

Eurostar say that the problem was due to an accumulation of snow in the back power car - there is one at each end - which caused condensation when the trains went into the warm tunnel where the ambient temperature is 25C, resulting in water affecting the electronics.

However, it is bizarre that as a result of the particular weather conditions, five trains should fail so soon after one another when Eurostar management claim that this problem had not manifested itself before.

The weather was indeed extremely cold in France and the snow was, apparently, particularly light and fluffy, which meant it blew in through the louvred-type ventilation panels of the power car.

But it seems extraordinary that such weather conditions had not occurred before in the previous 15 years during which these trains operated.

In fact, unofficial reports suggest there have been other similar incidents in the past when trains have failed in the cold weather and it is possible that these were not sufficiently examined to assess whether there was a systematic problem.


The technical problems may, though, be put down to extreme bad luck as well as extreme weather, but there is no such excuse for Eurostar's handling of the situation.

First, from reports of passengers on the train from Disneyland, one of the five which broke down in the tunnel, it is clear that instead of the train manager taking responsibility for ensuring there was a proper evacuation, an off-duty policeman took over.

This will raise questions about Eurostar's training and management. The staff, in the words of one passenger, went AWOL.

Over the past three days, as all services have been cancelled, the company gave the impression of dithering and failing to inform those affected.

It was a very difficult situation, but with lots of staff available from the cancelled services, much more support could have been offered to those stranded by this debacle.

Cancelling all trains seems to have been a panic measure. Sure, there was a risk of further breakdowns, but the company could have ensured that sufficient rescue locomotives were available and they could have warned any potential passengers that the journey might take longer than normal.

A train breakdown is not life-threatening and people could have been given the choice of travelling or not.

Nor has the company taken sufficient responsibility for trying to get people to their destination.

For example, there are now high-speed trains serving the Kent ports from St Pancras which would then enable people to take a ferry and finish the journey through to Paris or Brussels by train.

Eurostar should have made far more strenuous efforts to try to set up an alternative service using this route.

It did arrange for 500 of the "most vulnerable" passengers to go this way on Sunday, but there should be contingency plans to make much greater use of this alternative now that it is available.

With foresight, it would even be possible for TGV trains to come to Calais-Ville, and therefore speed people through to Paris on fast trains. This whole episode has demonstrated that the modern rail industry is notoriously inflexible.

Even now that services are likely to be restored on Tuesday, no extra services are being planned.

Eurostar's reputation will have been greatly damaged by this situation, possibly more by its aftermath than by the initial breakdown.

The only winners are British Airways which only a week ago was facing cancellations and now are laying on extra services. A week can be a long time in the transport industry.

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Eurostar is just another example of a failing government-owned and operated enterprise.

Eurostar is operated by the national railway companies of France and Belgium, SNCF and SNCB, and by Eurostar (UK) Ltd (EUKL), a subsidiary of London and Continental Railways (LCR), which also owns the high-speed infrastructure and stations on the British side.

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Eurostar is just another example of a failing government-owned and operated enterprise.

Actually Eurostar is a very successful enterprise that has been transfering people back and forth under the Channel for many many years and millions of people have used it without problems. I have used it myself countles times and it's great. :)

It's not a failing venture at all. They just had some problems this week due to the weather. I'm not aware of any privately operated venture that is immune to weather.

Anybody who thinks the Channel Tunnel/Eurostar hasn't been anything but a successful venture must be living in cloud cuckoo land.

People will soon forget all about this recent 'problem'.

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