LONDON – More than 2,000 people were stranded beneath the English Channel for up to 16 hours when their Eurostar trains came to a halt in a tunnel, leaving many of them without food, water — or any idea of what was happening.
In the end, they all emerged safe on Friday night, but some suffered claustrophobia or panic attacks, and many passengers complained that Eurostar staff members had done little to help them through the ordeal, which forced some to walk part of the dark tunnel, 24 miles (38 kilometers) of which is under water.
Eurostar's executives have offered apologies, refunds, free travel and more, but the company has canceled all passenger services through the Channel Tunnel until Monday in a bid to figure out what happened.
"It was just pandemonium," said Lee Godfrey, who was returning to London from Disneyland Paris with his family when it was caught in the tunnel. He said people suffered asthma attacks and fainted after the train's power went out, cutting off light and air vents.
"People were very, very panicky," he told BBC radio, complaining of poor communication and saying that some passengers had to open the emergency doors themselves.
Godfrey's was one of four trains that were stuck in the tunnel Friday evening for reasons that remain unclear.
Eurostar officials have speculated that the quick transition from the icy cold of France, which is suffering some of its worst winter weather in years, to the relative warmth of the tunnel could have interfered with the trains' electrical systems. But the company's chief operating officer, Nicolas Petrovic, said Eurostar will have to investigate why the trains broke down.
"We've never seen anything like that at Eurostar," Petrovic told France-Info radio on Saturday.
The company has canceled regularly scheduled services until Monday for test runs.
"We don't want a repeat of last night," Eurostar spokesman Paul Gorman said.
Some passengers were evacuated by being taken through the darkened train tunnel onto shuttles. Others were left aboard two trains that were linked together and pushed to London by smaller diesel trains.
Parisian Gregoire Sentilhes described confusion as authorities struggled to evacuate passengers.
"We spent the night inside the tunnel," he said. "At 6 a.m. we were taken out of the train by firefighters. We walked for around a mile (1.6 kilometers) with our luggage. We went into another Eurostar train and we were trapped on it, going back and forth inside the tunnel."
He said passengers were suffering panic attacks, lacked anything to drink and didn't know what was happening. Some also complained about chaotic and poorly-organized efforts to get them home.
That confusion extended into Saturday evening.
Early Saturday Eurostar announced it was sending stranded passengers home from London in three special trains — only to cancel the service a few hours later. Two trains dispatched from Paris also canceled — one broke down shortly after leaving the tunnel, while another was stopped at Lille in northern France.
Chief Executive Richard Brown said the company was "very, very sorry that so many passengers were inconvenienced last night and this morning due to weather conditions in northern France. We are working hard to get passengers home. We will give them full refunds and another ticket."
Eurostar provides train service linking London to Paris and Brussels. It is usually thronged with holiday travelers this time of year.
The train service's reputation for safe operation suffered a setback in September, 2008, after a fire broke out as one of the trains entered the 50 kilometer (30 mile) tunnel. Service was cut back for five months as extensive damage was repaired.
On Saturday, travel for motorists hoping to cross the English Channel on ferries and via the Channel Tunnel was also badly disrupted. Police in Kent, England, warned drivers not to travel to the port of Dover except in emergencies because of massive traffic snarls caused by problems in the tunnel and in the French port of Calais.
Police put in motion a contingency plan to allow up to 2,300 trucks hoping to cross the English Channel to park on highways until the situation improves. Red Cross workers provided hot drinks and water to motorists trapped in their cars for up to 12 hours.
Associated Press Writer Cecile Brisson in Paris contributed to this report
Eurostar services remain suspended
LONDON (AFP) – The executive director of Eurostar Richard Brown between England and France confirmed Sunday that passenger train services remained suspended for the day and was unable to say when they would resume.
"I can't guarantee our services will be working because we've suspended the service again today until we get to the bottom of what happened on Friday night," he told BBC television on Sunday morning.
More than 2,000 passengers spent the night trapped in the Channel Tunnel, some without anything to eat or drink, after five Eurostar trains broke down in freezing weather.
The breakdowns were blamed on trains being unable to cope with the change in temperature as they moved from the bitter cold of northern France into the warm air of the tunnel.
"We did run two or three trains yesterday, they all got through the tunnel OK, but one or two of them showed symptoms of the problem that happened on Friday night.
"We will not start services again until we're sure that we can get them through safely," he emphasised.
Eurostar estimated that around 24,000 passengers were waiting to cross the Channel on Sunday after two days of disrupted services, the company's deputy director Nicolas Petrovic said Saturday.
Similar news on Mingguan Malaysia (20/12/09): http://www.utusan.com.my/utusan/info.asp?y=2009&dt=1220&pub=Utusan_Malaysia&sec=Muka_Hadapan&pg=mh_04.htm
My brother took a plane from Charles de Gaulle Airport to London on the 19th. We nearly bought Eurostar ticket for him. If we did so, he'd be one of the 24,000 passengers waiting to get across, lebih mengerikan if he'd be the one stranded among the 2000 passengers. Not only that, only planes from Charles de Gaulle and Orly Airport managed to fly in and out due to bad weather. Alhamdulillah my brother arrived safely. Allah The Almighty. Praying for him to get back here safely in Paris..