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Vandals cause huge Eurostar backlog

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-08

Thousands of passengers have been left waiting on station platforms after vandals threw concrete blocks onto electricity lines on the high-speed routes. Trains have been diverted to slower lines until the damage is repaired.

Acts of vandalism caused lengthy delays to Eurostar and other high-speed train services between Paris and the northern city of Lille, the French state railway SNCF said.
Some 40 trains serving Britain through the Channel tunnel as well as northern France and Belgium were delayed, leaving thousands of people waiting for up to three hours at Paris's Gare du Nord station.
Rail officials said trains had had to be diverted from the dedicated high speed line to ordinary track with lower speed restrictions in both directions after reinforced concrete blocks were thrown on to the overhead electric wires in two places.
The discovery of the body of a man who had apparently been hit by a train on a stretch of the ordinary line in the northern Paris suburbs further complicated the situation.
One TGV high-speed train, which left Lille at 6:25 am (0525 GMT) for Toulouse in southern France, was stranded for three hours with 350 passengers on board before the current was restored.
SNCF said services should be back to normal by later in the day.
Company head Guillaume Pepy said on French television that he was "very, very angry" after what he said was the fourth incident of "malevolence, if not sabotage" in three weeks.
He said the company would step up its surveillance of the system and react more swiftly when incidents occurred.
Transport minister Dominique Bussereau condemned the acts of vandalism and called for those responsible to be caught. He also urged that monitoring of rail infrastructure be stepped up.
The latest incident came a week after TGV services to western France were disrupted for up to six hours in the Paris region when gunshots were blamed for a broken catenary, or overhead wire.
Bussereau said then that the disruptions were "unacceptable" and called on Pepy "to decide without further delay what measures he plans to take in the short and medium term."
Last month SNCF estimated that it needed to invest 400 million euros (508 million dollars) over four years to renovate the catenaries on its rail network as some are very worn out, according to an audit conducted in September.
In mid-September a fire on a freight train in the Channel Tunnel badly hit the Eurostar service for a weekend.

Date created : 2008-11-08