Eurostar has announced a complete suspension of train service between England and France due to winter weather conditions.
AFP -More than 2,000 passengers were forced to spend a panicky night stranded in the Channel Tunnel linking France and Britain after freezing weather caused five trains to break down.
The trains failed on Friday evening as they moved from the freezing temperatures in northeastern France into the warmer air of the tunnel, operator Eurostar said.
On Saturday a couple of Eurostar passenger trains made it through the tunnel, but most services linking London with Paris and Brussels were cancelled Saturday.
The company warned passengers to expect a limited number of trains on Sunday, causing chaos on the pre-Christmas weekend, one of the busiest travel periods of the year.
Some passengers complained they were left to fend for themselves when the trains were halted under the English Channel.
Patrick Dussaut, who was with a group of 40 people from a French company hoping to visit Britain, complained they had been stuck in a Eurostar train since Friday evening and by Saturday lunchtime had still not reached London.
"People have been stuck in the train for 16 and a half hours non-stop, without being able to open the doors," he told AFP by telephone.
"There have been heated arguments between Eurostar staff and passengers who were fed up of being shut inside the trains. On a human level, the management has been catastrophic."
Another passenger, Lee Godfrey, who was travelling back to London from Disneyland Paris with his family when the train broke down, criticised Eurostar's handling of the problem.
"We were without power. We ran out of water, we ran out of food and there was very, very poor communication from the staff.
"We lost air-conditioning when we lost the power. We had to open the emergency doors ourselves," he told BBC radio, adding that passengers had been "very, very panicky".
He said: "We have had children asleep on the floor, they have been sick. It has been a complete nightmare."
A Eurostar spokeswoman told AFP that of its Saturday trains, one Brussels to London service made it; a London to Paris train was on its way, and of two Paris to London services, one had broken down in England -- with an empty train being sent to collect the passengers -- while the other was stopped in France.
"We have not had a situation like this in 15 years," Eurostar executive Nicolas Petrovic told AFP.
On Friday, he said, "Five trains broke down in the tunnel between 8:30 pm and 11:30 pm (1930 GMT and 2230 GMT)."
All the affected trains had been removed from the tunnel and two thirds of the 2,000 passengers had reached London by mid-morning Saturday, he added.
He said between 4,000 and 5,000 passengers had been able to travel Saturday, while some 24,000 were expecting to travel Sunday, though services would be disrupted.
Eurostar chief executive Richard Brown apologised for the inconvenience caused to passengers.
"We are very sorry, we are giving them a full refund of their ticket, another free journey with us, and we will be offering each 150 pounds (170 euros, 240 dollars) per person, as a gesture of apology, on top of their out-of-pocket expenses," he told Sky News television.
The tunnel's operators Eurotunnel, which runs a drive-on train service for cars and trucks, said it resumed services Saturday after being forced to suspend its trains.
The disruption in the tunnel was the worst since a raging fire on a Eurotunnel train in September 2008 caused a two-day suspension of services.
The problems with the Eurostar trains added to an already difficult situation in Europe as temperatures dropped as low as minus seven degrees Celsius (19 degrees Fahrenheit).
Up to 18 centimetres (seven inches) of snow were reported in parts of Kent, the southeastern English county through which the high-speed Eurostar trains run.
Ferries between France and Britain were also heavily disrupted by the adverse weather conditions.
The motorway to Britain's main Channel port Dover was partly reduced to little more than a parking area for trucks on Saturday.
Air passengers also faced delays Saturday due to snow in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Dozens of flights in and out of Britain had been cancelled on Thursday and Friday.
A statement on British Airways' website said the disruption was "likely to continue into the weekend."
Date created : 2009-12-19