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!




  1. Hmm… Both the Euroshuttle locomotives and the Class 92s were tested in Czech Republic during extremely cold weather (-30), and the 92’s went to Vienna Arsenal for climatic testing…. including a thermal shock test (from -25 to +25 in a few minutes)

    • Sounds as if the Class 92’s would have been just the job to haul the stricken trains out of the Channel Tunnel and take them on to their final destinations. Which Eurostar Director came up with the recommendation to sell them?

  2. I have been promoting a campaign to deliver the conditions promised by Articles 2, 3, etc. of The Treaty of Rome and subsequent EC legislation but not as yet delivered by ferry operators.

    The basic tenet is that you should be able to arrive on foot or by cycle at a ferry port and be able to board the next available sailing to “Travel freely between member states. This facility is not yet available between Ramsgate and Oostende Liverpool and Dublin, Heysham and Belfast, and P&O won’t carry foot passengers on overnight sailings as they only operate their shuttle bus from the Reception Lounge to the Berth during the day-time.

    Clearly a Question to ask at the EP (get our MEP’s doing something useful?) Both on the basic tenet of delivering access to ferries without the compulsory requirement of a car, and then to deliver a robust contingency measure of being able to stop and detrain passengers from a Eurostar service on the UK side – Le Frethun station is not perfect but at least its fairly close to Calais, this should then tie-in with provision of transport from train to ferry.

    Surely someone has considered this given the 2 major fires and the Eurostar hiatus in the past 2 years.

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