Eurostar slammed over breakdowns

2010-02-12 18:37

London - An independent probe slammed cross-Channel train operator Eurostar on Friday for failing to prepare sufficiently for winter weather, which led to breakdowns and mass disruption in December.

Eurostar also had "no plan in place" to deal with the chaos created when five trains carrying more than 2 000 passengers broke down in the Channel Tunnel in the busy pre-Christmas period, the investigation said.

The company said it welcomed the findings and promised to spend over £30m on upgrades.

"We will be investing ... 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," it said.

The maintenance of the trains came in for particular criticism - some of those which broke down had no snow screens on their power cars, which allowed a fine type of snow to cause the electrical systems to fail.

Passengers stuck on the trains in the tunnel endured overflowing toilets, darkness and stuffy conditions for hours on end, the report said, adding that "provision of information to customers was inadequate".

Services were cancelled and disrupted following the breakdowns, throwing the travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers trying to travel between London and Paris and Brussels into disarray.

The poor quality of information offered to passengers waiting to take cancelled or delayed trains was also highlighted.

Eurostar apologised for the disruption caused.

"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.

The study, by former train company boss Christopher Garnett and French civil engineer Claude Gressier, said the weather in northern France on December 18 was "extremely severe with heavy snowfall".

"The review... found that Eurostar trains had not undergone sufficient winter weather preparations to withstand these conditions and that maintenance procedures should be revised," it read.

The first train to break down in the Tunnel was recovered "quickly" but "four further trains then broke down in rapid succession and passengers from two of them had to be evacuated onto Eurotunnel passenger shuttles inside the Tunnel.

"This was the first time this had happened in 15 years of operation," the review said.

While the evacuation of trains inside the tunnel under the English Channel was carried out "safely and efficiently", the report highlighted "concerns" about conditions in the trains after they lost air conditioning and lighting.

It also said communication between Eurostar and Tunnel operator Eurotunnel needs to be radically improved.

Garnett and Gressier made three main recommendations - which Eurostar has already indicated it will accept.

"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," they said.

"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."

Read more on:    eurostar  |  weather  |  chunnel breakdowns

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