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February 12, 2010

Eurostar criticised for snow failures

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EUROSTAR must take steps to improve communications, winterisation of rolling stock, and emergency and evacuations procedures, according to an independent review into the failure of five trains in the Channel Tunnel on December 18.
 
The joint Anglo-French review, which presented its findings at a press conference in London this morning, recognised that weather conditions in the Nord Pas de Calais region were particularly severe with extremely heavy snowfall. However, it concludes that the winterisation measures adopted by Eurostar were inadequate and should be revised, with emphasis on improving maintenance and checking seals around the control cubicle door; better protection of electronic components; and insulation of inductors with a redesign of the power car roof layout.

The review says the evacuation of trains was carried out quickly and safely, but criticises the conditions that arose onboard the trains when they lost power, and subsequently air conditioning and lighting failed. The investigation notes that Eurostar and Eurotunnel's evacuation procedures deal with how to vacate a train in the event of a fire, but do not adequately address the need to evacuate trains for other reasons. The review has recommended Eurostar and Eurotunnel carry out an urgent review of these procedures.

Crisis communication between Eurostar and Eurotunnel is also criticised, and the review has recommended a series of measures to improve communications between the two companies, and provide better information to passengers in the event of an emergency.

In the days that followed the breakdowns, Eurostar suspended all services leaving thousands of passengers stranded. The review concludes that Eurostar did not have adequate emergency procedures in place to manage major disruption to its services, and recommends the operator should urgently instigate a review of its procedures. It also says Eurostar should put in place procedures to quickly mobilise a rescue train, improve communications channels for passengers that might be affected by disruption, improve communications to passengers already at stations, and provide information on alternative means of transport.

Eurostar has appointed a director of business continuity who, with a dedicated team will be responsible for implementing all of the reviews recommendations. The company has also pledged to work with Eurotunnel on an improved communications system and the provision of additional rescue locomotives, as well as a joint review of rescue and evacuation procedures.
 
A full report with in-depth analysis of the review's findings will appear in the March edition of International Railway Journal.
 
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