How Tunnelvisionaries at Eurostar “Missed the Train” again

Two Eurostar Trains by Austin Evan on Flickr.

Just before I hit the warm sack early this morning it became apparent through Twitter that 4 Eurostar trains had become stuck in the Chunnel, the tunnel under the Channel between Calais in France and Folkestone in the UK.

Earlier this week there had been rumors of British train drivers calling a strike because of failing salary negotiations. I wonder if the two items are connected.

Three trains from France to the United Kingdom were involved and one from the UK to France. At least 2,000 people were stuck in their trains. Moreover after they were hauled out of the Chunnel,  some people even were stuck in a train in Folkestone for another 7 hours making their trip a 15 hr horror journey without being at the destination. The official reading is a failed electricity system because it was cold outside and warm in the tunnel.

A Dutch paper suggested this week that the operators of railroads in the European Alps, the Nordic countries or Canada would laugh their ass off when they would read what the Dutch railroad operators presented as excuses for trains not operating as they should. Now they can add Eurostar as yet another laughingstock.

Tech Crunch has a thoughtful article about it: As hundreds of Eurostar passengers languish, Eurostar ignores Twitter They could have used Twitter, but didn’t think of it.

The main fail is that they didn’t show any compassion for their passengers and also apparently didn’t think about the relatives of passengers who were waiting in the cold at both ends of the journey without being informed in one way or another. No news was provided. Management seemed sound asleep. Same attitude seemed have been the rule in the case of the train that had a truck on board that got on fire in September 2008.

Today all trains to and from the UK were cancelled.

Customer Service, Marketing and PR should have been be married into one voice Marck Pack claims and rightfully so.  Note I chose the same photo by accident before I red his post.

When I travel from the continent to the UK I usually prefer to travel by car an then tend to prefer a ferry above a cartrain through the Chunnel. Only the idea you can swim instead of being burried or chocked in a tunnel does it for me. But I have taken the car train a couple of times because my fellow travelers prefer a train over a ferry because they get easy seasick. What can you do…

I’m a bit focused on the Eurostar because of the ticket incident with the Thalys, the Amsterdam – Brussels leg of the Eurostar that I described last week.

Dan Beck Daniele Becari, a frequent Eurostar traveler commented here: Eurostar PR Fallout

I was reading through @Coletteballou‘s tweets and found the following highly interesting observation:

Now that is good PR: Apparently Claudia Schiffer got out of the mess before the masses…”Quot licet Iovi…”

Now more incidents showing the same attitude are being mentioned on several places.

Update 2 – Eurotunnel saved Eurostar???
@Railservice, a twitter account maintained by three Swiss Public Transport employees pointed me to the following harnessed Press Release where Eurotunnel claimed it had saved Eurostar:

Eurotunnel rescues Eurostar
Overnight from Friday 18 to Saturday 19 December Eurotunnel staff went to the assistance
of 5 Eurostar trains which had broken down in the Channel Tunnel, following technical
failures. These incidents were in no way due to the Tunnel infrastructure.
Eurotunnel staff:

  • Rescued 5 Eurostar trains which had lost traction
  • Evacuated 1,364 Eurostar passengers and brought them to the surface in Folkestone, Kent, using their own trains, where they were able to continue their journey to London
  • Towed 2 Eurostars to St Pancras as Eurostar did not have the means to do so themselves*

Pascal Sainson, Eurotunnel Operations Director, commented: “In very difficult conditions Eurotunnel made the decision to assist the Eurostar trains and their passengers. In order to conduct these operations in complete safety, Eurotunnel mobilised substantial extra staff and technical resources and also made the decision to interrupt its own services. Eurotunnel has done everything it can to resolve the situation”.
Traffic in the Channel Tunnel has been progressively returning to normal since 05:40 CET this morning.
In anticipation of heavy traffic this weekend Eurotunnel had already instigated its BAR Programme (Busy And Ready). In particular a fleet of snow ploughs and road clearing vehicles has been operating to clear snow from the terminal in Coquelles, France to reduce
the impact of the current severe weather in northern France.
Eurotunnel is however not responsible for the condition of the motorways.
Eurotunnel has put in place an organisation to help passengers to cross the Channel even if they arrive late at the departure terminal.
* Eurotunnel locomotives and Shuttles are prepared and maintained so that they are not affected by rapid temperature changes.

This at least teaches me that the car shuttles and the Eurostar trains are operated by two separate companies that I wasn’t aware of.

The final quote is the statement that has been haunting me all day today and yesterday: From own experience that the Swiss operate trains that enter tunnels that have extreme temperature differences with the outside. Frequently I have used use the Lötschberg car shuttle between Kandersteg and Goppenstein when traveling to the Rhone valley in Switserland. There It can be minus 10 or minus 20 Celsius outside, while the tunnel temperature is plus 14 to plus 16 degrees Celcius. In addition passenger trains from Bern to Milan used to use the same tunnel without these kind of things happening. I take it there is no difference since the passenger trains are now using the new Lötschberg Basis Tunnel as of 2007. Moreover they have many other tunnels with the same phenomenon…So I have a serious question about the Eurostar trains failing under these circumstances.

Moreover. When I find the quotes regarding prior incidents with poor communication again I’ll repeat them here.

Last edited by Happy Hotelier on December 21, 2009 at 12:20 am

8 thoughts on “How Tunnelvisionaries at Eurostar “Missed the Train” again”

  1. Good post Guido. I had only picked up on the story late this afternoon. IF the story is true that a celebrity was taken out of the train before all of the other passengers then that is truely shocking and far more of an issue than the fuss Techcrunch gave about Eurostar not using twitter.

  2. @ Darren
    Not using Twitter is one thing, because only the Twitter lovers would know about it, but the total lack of proper communication is an issue in my view.

  3. @Daniele
    The Dan Beck is rooted in your Twitter name, sorry for that one. I’ll repair it. Maybe you should flesh out your about page at a bit. I missed it.
    I’ve updated this post with update number 2. Knowing the Lötschberg situation which in my mind is the same as the Chunnel situation in cold weather, I’m convinced there is more to this.

  4. No worries Guido, it will now remain forever.

    I am also not convinced by the technical root cause of the problem, but I think it’s not so simple. The extreme cold might have required power generators in the area to shift power to other circuits and for some reason the Eurostar circuits lost power? Maybe an electronic security “feature”?

    Also I cannot believe that train 1 goes 1 and gets stuck, train 2 goes in and gets stuck too, and they still allow trains 3 and 4 (and maybe even a 5th one) to go in.

  5. Let’s not forget that earlier on this year Eurostar services were the only ones that WERE running. And it’s a good thing the trains cut out on the ground, unlike the air travel services which are equally affected by the weather! I know for a fact that they’ve already started modifications on the Eurostar shields and are due to resume service as soon as today or tomorrow.

  6. My favourite photo coincidence was when I was working for the Liberal Democrats and we bought the rights to use a photo of medial staff. A few months later the very same photo turned up (also purchased legitimately) on Labour material!

  7. In other words, don’t get onto the train if anyone Habsbergs or Japanese royals are onboard because you will be Seconds From Disaster. Good grief.

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