Eurotunnel says not responsible for Eurostar chaos

Eurotunnel, operator of the Channel Tunnel, said its staff had reacted quickly to help some 2,500 Eurostar passengers hit by breakdowns on Dec. 18.

Eurotunnel says not responsible for Eurostar chaos

Eurotunnel, operator of the Channel Tunnel, said on Friday its staff had reacted quickly to help some 2,500 Eurostar passengers hit by breakdowns on Dec. 18 and were not responsible for any failure in communications.

It also accused Eurostar staff and British police of contributing to the delay in evacuating passengers from trains that broke down when condensation from melting snow damaged their electrical systems.

Some passengers spent up to 16 hours trying to get to London from Paris, compared with the two hours or so it should normally take.

The statement rejecting any fault in the chaos comes ahead of a probe into the breakdown, which left passengers complaining of being left without information and drew demands for an explanation from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Eurostar, owned by the French and Belgian state railway firms and by Britain, cancelled all services for three days to find out what went wrong and try to ensure trains ran safely.

In a statement, Eurostar said it did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry, due to be published by the end of January. And it urged Eurotunnel to allow experts "to get on with the review and let the facts speak for themselves."

"The remit of the review is much wider than just the evacuation of passengers from the tunnel and looks at all of the circumstances both before and after the 18 and 19 December," Eurostar said.

The review had been endorsed by the governments of Britain and France and the Intergovernmental Commission (IGC), the Channel Tunnel's Anglo-French supervisory body, it said.

Normally about 40,000 people travel between Britain and continental Europe on trains that speed through the 51-km (32-mile) tunnel, the longest undersea subway in the world.

The cancellations left tens of thousands of passengers stranded and also dented shares in Eurotunnel as traders questioned the possible impact on the image of cross-channel rail services, though the group itself rejected any suggestion it was at fault.

"Although Eurotunnel was quite obviously not the cause of these breakdowns and is not in charge of Eurostar client relations and our teams took actions in a rapid and professional manner going beyond their normal responsibilities, we have been unjustly suspected in some quarters of not reacting in an appropriate way," it said.

As well as providing tunnel services for Eurostar, Eurotunnel operates its own cross-Channel shuttle services for motorists and freight carriers.

The relationship and communications between Eurotunnel and Eurostar are expected to be a key subject of the inquiry. (For a story on the inquiry, please click on)

In its statement on Friday, Eurotunnel provided an account of the events of Dec. 18, saying it had hauled out three of the trains, while two others were evacuated.

It also said that its crisis headquarters had been in constant touch with the Eurostar trains in the tunnel, rejecting suggestions communications between the tunnel operator and train staff had been deficient.

It said the evacuation was prolonged because of the decision by Eurostar staff to tell passengers to take their luggage with them and it said Kent police had engaged in "interminable checks" on passengers, which had also caused delays.

But it said it would work with the train operator to ensure reliable services between Britain and continental Europe.

"Eurotunnel will do everything in its power to enable Eurostar to overcome this crisis as rapidly as possible," it said in the statement.

Reuters
Last Mod: 26 Aralık 2009, 17:01
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