LONDON (Reuters) - Weekend suspensions to Eurostar rail services caused by acute weather conditions will continue through Monday while trains are modified to cope with more snow expected in northern France, the operating company said.
On Friday, six trains carrying 2,500 passengers broke down, five of them in the undersea tunnel linking Britain and France, leaving passengers stuck on the trains for up to 16 hours overnight.
Eurostar said on Sunday that the results of test runs had shown a need for modifications to the snow screens and snow shields in the trains’ locomotives.
The company, operated by French rail operator SNCF, its Belgian counterpart SNCB and British government-owned LCR, said the trains failed after moving from cold air outside into the warmer tunnel, causing condensation which affected electrical systems.
“We have already started making the modifications and to ensure that these new protection measures work effectively we are conducting a series of test runs tomorrow,” a Eurostar statement said.
It said passengers affected by delays would be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses and advised those whose travel is non-essential to change their booking to a later date or claim a refund.
Tunnel operator Eurotunnel said its shuttle service, which carries vehicles, and freight trains were still running.
Many of the passengers trapped on Friday night in trains in the 51-km (32-mile) tunnel, the longest undersea subway in the world, were furious after being left with no power, air conditioning, food or water.
Some complained that Eurostar gave them little or nothing in the way of information during their ordeal. Normal services from Brussels and Paris to London take about two hours.
“We are very sorry for what happened because clearly it was a very upsetting and distressing experience,” Richard Brown, chief executive of Eurostar, told BBC TV.
“I’m not pretending it went well, I’m saying it went rather better than actually quite a few people are saying.”
Nirj Deva, a member of the European Parliament for the South East of England, said Eurostar was guilty of incompetence.
“I therefore call on Richard Brown to admit that his company was not adequately prepared to deal with the situation, and to do the decent thing and resign,” he said.
Asked if he would quit, Brown said it was important to get the service running again and to find out what had gone wrong.
“That’s what I will be doing and focussing on over the next few days,” he said.
Eurostar carries about 40,000 people a day between Britain and continental Europe. The suspension of its services, coupled with problems with cross-Channel ferries and poor weather, has caused massive delays on major roads in southeastern England.
Last year, the Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994, was shut for two days after a large fire broke out on a freight train. A blaze in 1996 halted freight traffic for seven months.
Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Michael Roddy