Over 55,000 passenger journeys were disrupted over the weekend after five trains broke down in the Channel Tunnel on Friday evening, followed by a sixth train on Saturday, forcing all services to be suspended until further notice. Many passengers were stranded in the tunnel for nearly 12 hours, with some forced to leave the trains in the service tunnel. Others were left waiting at stations in Britain, France and Belgium throughout the weekend.
Eurostar has cited the acute weather conditions in northern France as the cause of the problem. Specifically precipitation from collected snow and ice which melted when the trains entered the warm tunnel environment is said to have caused problems with their electronics. Snow screens and shields in the power cars, installed as part of the company's winterisation programme, are being enhanced as part of the ongoing tests.
As details of the problems emerged, passengers were advised to delay their Eurostar travel plans until after Christmas and offered compensation packages including full refunds of their cancelled journeys, expenses such as hotel and taxi costs, and a complimentary Eurostar ticket. Many of the stranded passengers flocked to airports and ferry ports as an alternative, although these services were also hampered by the weather.
An independent inquiry into the cause of the problems experienced over the past few days is already underway. Mr Christopher Garnett, former chief executive of GNER and formerly commercial director of Eurotunnel, will lead the inquiry in conjunction with Mr Claude Gressier, inspector general of French bridges and roads.