Archive for December, 2009


Tornado rescues stranded commuters in Kent

Wednesday, December 23 2009

Tornado hauling The Cathedrals Express through Staplehurst. Photo Craig Stretton, A1 Steam Locomotive Trust.

Tornado defied the Arctic weather on Monday 21 December 2009 and hauled two of only a handful of trains that managed to operate in Kent that day. The new Peppercorn class A1 pacific’s 1940s technology was able to withstand the snow and ice that brought much of Southern England to a standstill and hauled The Cathedrals Express from London Victoria to Dover and back without a hitch. On the second trip Tornado was able to rescue commuters who had been left stranded by more ‘modern’ trains, dropping them off at stations en-route.

On Tuesday 22 December 2009, Tornado headed back to the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York  for scheduled winter maintenance.Visitors to the NRM will be able to see Tornado undergoing her winter maintenance regime in the workshop from 1 January to 20 January 2010. Although the locomotive will arrive on Tuesday 22 December 2009, and not leave until early February 2010, she is unlikely to be easily viewable outside of these dates.

It does rather seem that Eurostar have missed an opportunity here, with Tornado having proven her ability to work a heavy train in the iciest of conditions, the company could have had an ideal locomotive to haul its trains from Calais to St Pancras, or at least onwards from the Tunnel entrance at Cheriton. What a pity the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority has a rather prissy attitude to running steam engines!


Independent Eurostar inquiry must be held

Monday, December 21 2009

Tunnel Vision
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Eurostar customers wait for information about train services in St Pancras station on December 21. Photo by Oli Scarff / Getty Images via picapp.

With some Eurostar 55,000 passengers affected by the Eurostar failures and cancellations, followed by today’s news that Eurotunnel are not honouring all reservations for the Eurotunnel Shuttle, Transport Minister Sidiq Kahn’s demand that Eurostar’s internal inquiry should also report to shareholders and himself is a case of too little, too late. An independent public inquiry with sufficiently wide terms of reference is the only way to ensure that the reoccurring saga of Channel Tunnel chaos is terminated once and for all.

Here are the 12 questions that such an inquiry should examine:

  1. Was Friday’s failure of 6 Eurostar trains a freak once in 100 years fault, or had such failures occurred before?
  2. What temperature and humidity tests had the Eurostar trains been subject to?
  3. Is Eurotunnel’s Eurostar rescue model (send in another Eurostar to push the failed train out) the appropriate solution in all circumstances?
  4. How were the different rescue scenarios for the 5 failed trains devised?
  5. Should Eurostar have had their own locomotives on standby or is it sufficient for the company to rely on Eurotunnel’s locomotives?
  6. Were the experiences of passengers whose trains failed in the tunnel merely unpleasant, or a serious health and safety risk?
  7. Was their adequate communication between Eurostar staff and the passengers in the failed trains?
  8. Was there adequate communication between Eurotunnel and the Eurostar staff in the failed trains?
  9. Were appropriate arrangements made to support intending passengers who were stranded by the cancellation of Eurostar services.
  10. How adequate was the response  of the management and board of Eurostar?
  11. How adequate was the response of the management and board of Eurotunnel?
  12. How appropriate were the control procedures ordered by the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority?



55,000 passengers stranded, chaos till Xmas?

Monday, December 21 2009

Calls for Eurostar boss, Richard Brown, to resign

Tunnel Vision

Page from the BBC News as updated at 22:46 GMT, Sunday, 20 December 2009

(Click above to link to the page and play the interview with Eurostar Chairman, Nick Brown.)

While more horrific experiences were recalled by passengers who had suffered delays delays of up to 18 hours after five Eurostar trains broke down in the Channel Tunnel on Friday, Mike Dembinski, a regular reader of Tunnel Vision, reveals in a comment to our last post that exactly the same problems were occurring as early as 13 years ago!

What puzzles me is that EXACTLY the same thing happened to me in January 1996. I was on my way from London to Brussels (ironically to interview then transport commissioner Neil Kinnock).

The wretched train went into the tunnel like Henry the Green Engine and refused to come out (snow coming in at the wrong angle). After an eon in Calais (of course, I never did get to Brussels) the train taking us back to London got stuck in the tunnel again.

Both ways, the train was pulled out by a diesel loco from the French side.

13 years on the same thing happens? No one learns?

Since Friday night’s breakdowns, trains remain suspended for a third day today.

Eurostar abandons its customers

While Eurostar managed to arrange for 500 ‘vulnerable’ passengers to get back home in reasonable comfort to France and Belgium, no such arrangements were made for ‘vulnerable’ Brits stuck in France. The remaining tens of thousands of stranded passengers have been offered £150 compensation and a free Eurostar ticket, but no alternative transport. This is totally unacceptable and angry passengers are absolutely right to demand Nick Brown’s resignation. With fast Javelin services now operating via London and Dover and TGV trains running between Calais and Paris it does not require a genius to devise alternative travel arrangements until Eurostar services can be restored. By acting generously and swiftly Eurostar had a great opportunity to turn this disaster into a customer care and public relations triumph. Sadly the company totally failed to support its passengers – neither the passengers stuck in the stranded trains, nor those subsequently unable to get to their destinations.

Ferry companies turn away stranded passengers

With Eurostar unable, or unwilling, to arrange alternative transport arrangements, passengers attempting to solve the problem themselves were faced with ferry companies refusing to accept passengers without a car. The New York Times today describes how one of its reporters attempted to make his own arrangements to get from Paris to London.

It began on Saturday, when the 5:13 p.m. Eurostar train from Paris boarded 30 minutes late before being canceled altogether. The backup plan was to take the high-speed train, the T.G.V., to Calais, then cross the Channel by ferry and head up to London.

So far, so good. The T.G.V. left the station only 10 minutes late on its trip of an hour and a half. But upon arrival shortly after 8:30 p.m. at the snowbound Calais rail station, there were no buses or taxis to get to the port from which cross-Channel ferries operate.

Voilà, the first kindness. A French couple, collecting their daughter who had traveled from Toulouse, went out of their way to offer a ride to the ferry terminal.

But luck again took a turn for the worse.

The ferry companies refused to sell tickets to passengers traveling without automobiles. Sea France said it was against the rules for all their ferries, and P&O said it could take foot passengers only during daylight hours. Despite the travel chaos, neither would make an exception.

The reporter was fortunate, a group of snowboarders offered him a spare seat in one of his cars to take him the 100 yards or so onto the ferry. Other intending passengers may not have been so lucky. One wanders what Nick Brown has been doing since Friday. On reflection his customers should not be asking for his resignation, they should demand his head on a plate!



Eurostar chaos shows up contingency planning

Saturday, December 19 2009

Two of the 12 Class 37 diesel locomotives once intended to operate sleeper services over non-electrified parts of the OK railway network. When the plan to run through sleeper services was scrapped, Eurostar sold 9 Class 37 locomotives, but retained 3 for the rescue of failed trains. These last 3, as well as 7 Class 92 electric locomotives were disposed of in 2007. Photo Les Chatfield.

(Click on picture to see original on Wikipedia and for details of licensing.)

Eurostar contingency planning was shown up as woefully inadequate as four trains bound for London from Paris and Brussels broke down inside the Channel Tunnel yesterday evening. While the breakdown of the trains is perhaps excusable – subzero temperatures in France caused electrical equipment to fail when trains reached the warm humid air inside the tunnel – the inability of Eurotunnel to deal promptly with the failed trains is totally inexcusable.

Not for the first time Eurostar, and Channel Tunnel Safety Authority have shown themselves to be totally incapable of maintaining a safety regime which ensures the safe and prompt removal of failed trains from the Tunnel. What value is there in a safety regime where passengers can be trapped all night in trains without air conditioning, are given no information about their plight and are then are required to transfer themselves and their own luggage to whatever alternative transport – no doubt after much deliberation and box ticking – has eventually been devised?

Could someone tell these people that trains have been breaking down since Stephenson’s era and that the proven solution is to have locomotives available which can tow the disabled trains and their passengers all the way to their intended destinations?



Britain’s fragmented railways

Saturday, December 19 2009

Map ©Doe’s Directory of Bus and Rail Timetables, Web Sites and Enquiry Offices.

(Click on map to go to Barry Doe’s website from which a high resolution version of this map can be downloaded as follows. First click on the link Rail Operators in the British Isles and download the corresponding pdf file. Then open the downloaded document and click on the link which is under the Miscellaneous heading towards the bottom of the first page.)

Barry Doe produces a comprehensive series of fact sheets on the UK’s bus and railway services, all of which can be downloaded as pdf files from his website. I was particularly interested in seeing the map that he produced entitled, 2010 Great Britain National rail Passenger Operators, a thumbnail of which is reproduced at the head of this article. If anyone wonders why railway services are so expensive on this small island a glance at Barry’s map provides a big clue.

The fragmented railway system that Britain ended up with after John Major’s botched privatisation is surely an object lesson into how not to reorganise a nation’s railways. One would have thought that consultants would be travelling around the world advising governments and railway companies on all the lessons to be learnt from the mistakes that were made in the UK. Unfortunately, the consultants, lawyers and bankers were the one group that did benefit from the UK’s rail privatisation albeit at great cost to the British rail travelling public.

(A longer version of this article has been published on Behind The Water Tower.)


Where to eat out in London?

Friday, December 18 2009

Charing Cross Hotel. Photo © Guoman Hotels.

(Click picture to go to hotel website.)

The Winter holiday is traditionally celebrated with feasting. So if you wanted to eat in a good restaurant with a railway theme, which London railway terminal would you choose? It is not a straightforward choice. None of the old grand railway hotels have had an easy passage through history. Much more than great names have been lost. Perhaps the old Great Western Hotel Paddington had the smoothest metamorphosis. Built by Philip Charles Hardwick in 1851–54 it was initially managed by the Great Western Royal Hotel Company (chairman Isambard Kingdom Brunel) and subsequently managed by the Great Western Railway Company. Under British Railways it lost a great deal of its gloss, but now as the London Hilton Paddington, and only 15 minutes away from Heathrow it is emerging as a smart place to talk business in London.

However, business talk is not what I am after today. I want ambiance and style and individual atmosphere, a real railway hotel, not just a hotel that just happens to be next to a railway station. If I want to walk off a platform, and find myself in a four star hotel with a intimate atmosphere, then the Charing Cross Hotel (restaurant seats 28) is a surprise and the food a delight. Sir John Hawkshaw’s 1864 building is still a great Victorian hotel even if the two top stories are a post WW II replacement of the original Mansard roof which was damaged by German bombs. If you are after something a bit more grand then how about the  London Landmark? Originally opened in 1899 as the Great Central Hotel, a companion to the Great Central Railway’s Marylebone Station, it served as a convalescent home during the Second World War and then for many years was headquarters of the British Railways Board. After extensive restoration re-emerged in opulent late Victorian splendor as the five star Landmark London Hotel in 1995.

But perhaps none of the four restaurants of the Landmark are to your taste? You would like something bolder, modern but flavoured by history. Then the former Midland Railway Grand Hotel at St Pancras International Station could be just the ticket, but you will have to wait a couple more years before reconstruction into the Renaissance St. Pancras Hotel London will be complete. However, if really good food is what you are after why not just hop onto a Eurostar and head out to the best railway station restaurant in the World?


The best UK rail story in 2009

Sunday, December 13 2009

Construction of a temporary station at Workington on Thursday 26 Nov 2009. Photo Network Rail.

The best UK rail story in 2009 was undoubtedly the construction of a brand new station at Workington in six days when flood waters damaged road bridges and a foot bridge across the River Derwent. It just goes to show what can be achieved when a Minister of State who is sympathetic to rail is put in charge of the Department of Transport.

Workington North Station on the first day of service day 30 Nov 2009. 15.14 Shuttle Service from Maryport to Workington, hauled by DRS Class 47. Photo Richard LM Byers.

(Click on picture to see original and for details of licensing.)

And the worst rail story? Watch this space…


Wikipedia – Workington North Railway Station

News & Star – New Workington Rail Station Opened After Six Day Build

Flickr – 28Gwyn’s photostream