Eurostar slammed over snow chaos

A damning indictment of the causes and handling of Eurostar's pre-Christmas rail chaos - when thousands of passengers were stuck for hours in the Channel Tunnel - has been handed down in an independent report.

Snow got into the Eurostar trains' power cars after winter maintenance work had not been done properly, the report said.

Describing appalling conditions of heat and darkness for passengers who included pregnant mothers and children returning from Disneyland Paris, the report's authors said Eurostar had been "found wanting".

They added that the company had "no plan in place" to deal with the breakdown of five trains in the tunnel on the night of December 18 and 19.

Making 21 recommendations, the report's authors said Eurotunnel had to improve its maintenance, its communication with passengers and its emergency procedures.

The report was compiled by former GNER East Coast Main Line rail boss Christopher Garnett and French transport expert Claude Gressier.

Mr Garnett said: "Passengers must not go through this again."

Following the publication of the report, Eurostar said it had modified its trains and more work on them was being done. The company is also spending £12 million on a new communication system.

Eurostar chief executive Richard Brown said: "I know we let our passengers down before Christmas and I am determined to put things right."

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said "too many passengers were left to endure appalling conditions" while rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus said the report confirmed "how badly passengers were let down".

The report said that in reviewing the causes of the breakdown of the trains, it had become apparent that the standard winter-weather procedures followed by Eurostar were "not suited to the actual weather conditions experienced".

The report added that the problems of snow getting into the trains' works and the build-up of condensation when passing into the warm tunnel from the cold outside "were not fully recognised at the time when the Eurostar power cars were being designed".

The report vividly described conditions in the 664-passenger, broken-down "Disney train" where temperatures got so hot that parents had to remove their children's clothes, leaving them in underwear and nappies.

When these Disney passengers were transferred on to a Eurotunnel passenger shuttle train, it was "cold and dirty".

The report went on: "All passengers including, pregnant women and small children, had to sit on greasy floors or lean against the sides of the carriage.

Toilets overflowed on this shuttle train, leading to passengers having to designate one carriage as "an open toilet area".

The report also told of hours of confusion and further delays and frustrations for passengers through the night and into the morning of December 19 before they were able to get home.

Some failed to fully understand the French-accented announcements, others felt they were being held "captive" on the trains and many complained about lack of food and a lack of information.

The report said Eurostar should have been better prepared for the disruption and reacted earlier.

With no plan in place, the company had to "improvise" and its provision of information to customers was "inadequate".

Mr Garnett and Mr Gressier said: "This incident caused some passengers distress and others enormous disruption to their holiday plans at a critical time. We believe there are three lessons to be learned.

"First, passengers need to be assured that the Eurostar trains are reliable and so improvements need to be made in this area as a priority.

"Second, if a train breaks down and passengers have to be rescued or evacuated, this must be done with greater speed and consideration, and more comprehensive emergency plans should be put in place.

"Third, in an emergency, passengers need to have prompt information and regular updates. Eurostar must improve the way it communicates with passengers and put in place new systems and practices to achieve that."

Eurostar said: "We fully accept that the handling of the disruption was unacceptable and are very sorry for the inconvenience and discomfort that we caused to our passengers."

It said it had committed to implementing all the recommendations "and a series of actions is already under way to address the issues raised".

The company went on: "Going forward we will be investing more than £30 million (including the £12 million communication system improvement) to improve the resilience of the Eurostar trains during severe winter conditions as well as passenger care during disruption and customer communication both inside and outside the tunnel."

Mr Brown said: "Our priority is to win back the confidence of our passengers by taking all the action necessary to prevent this ever happening again."

Read the full report here:
http://www.eurostarindependentreview.org/pdf/Eurostar%20Independent%20Review.pdf

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