Last Saturday, 19 December, five Eurostar trains grounded to a halt in the Channel Tunnel.  Up to 2,000 passengers were stuck overnight with little sustenance, electrical power, and scarcely any reliable information.

Trains departing from Paris are supposed to take 2 hours 15 minutes to reach St Pancras, London.  Instead these trains ended up taking 17 to 18 hours, spending 7 hours stationary under the channel – up to 75 metres (250 feet) below the seabed.

To make matters worse, the way in which it was all dealt with sounds quite simply shambolic.    The BBC have interviewed a cross section of passengers, and have posted a number of their first person stories on their site.

Any operation, even only if pretending to be professional, must have contingency plans.  However, all evidence of a contingency plan being adhered to here is totally non existent.  When staff can only manage to shrug shoulders, concern among passengers can justifiably turn  into panic.  And to compound a general lack of understanding as to what was happening, electricity cuts meant many were without light or air conditioning.  All the while loud bangs could be heard outside.

Some passengers, given the lack of management from Eurostar, decided to take matters into their own hands, opening emergency doors and evacuating on their own accord.

With management both on board and back in the office in total dissarray, it’s unsuprising the press office at Eurostar is playing a tight lipped game.  The mantra that mechanical failures due to fine snow were the cause of the five breakdowns being well drummed in.   Any further questions are to be answered during the independent enquiry at the end of January.

It’s likely to be damming enquiry, on several fronts.  The (mis)management of the broken down trains in the tunnel is one issue, there’s also the thousands of people who were told to hang on overnight in Eurostar staions, only to later find out all services were cancelled.  Further dithering in communications meant people with tickets for Monday 21st December were led to believe they could catch trains the following day, only to find out on the day, that not everyone could be accommodated.

Mechanical breakdowns are bad enough, but they’re not necessarily a crisis in themselves.   Eurostar’s handling of the situation though has ensured that many regard this debacle as just that, a large scale company-wide crisis.

It’s the aftermath that leaves the sourest of tastes.  Eurostar have some making up to do.

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