Mystifying. What caused five Eurostar trains to sit down – and well inside the Channel Tunnel – is still not clear. After all, this isn’t the first time that the service has run during the winter months, and we’ve had cold snaps during those months on a regular basis. Moreover, the Eurostar is one of the French TGV family, trains that rack up large mileages across not only France, but Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain.
However, the worst part of the failures has been that Eurostar have taken so long to extract trains and passengers from the Tunnel and get them to their destinations. Whereas the main line network in the UK has so-called “Thunderbird” locomotives at a variety of locations, ready at short notice to rescue failed trains, Eurostar has none, although Eurotunnel provided some switcher locos to extract two of the failures.
Also, there are other train services running between London and the Kent coast, so it might be thought that, once passengers were brought out of the Tunnel, they could be moved onwards pretty quickly. Instead, we have been treated to a series of horror stories, with unfortunate punters arriving at St Pancras more than half a day late. Then, the time taken to get the failed trains out of the Tunnel has started talk of it being a “death trap”, despite there having been no fatalities thus far either on Eurostar, or car and lorry shuttles.
The reputational damage that has been done to Eurostar, and to an extent to rail travel generally, is substantial. It will take time to recover customer confidence, and in some cases that confidence will have been lost for good. Whatever the cause, we need to know that this operator has measures in place to avoid another fiasco on the scale of the last few days.
Or, failing that, the concession to run these trains should be given to someone who will.