Channel tunnel fire chaos

Bit ironic that my last blog but one comments on the sometimes poor service operated by Eurostar. Certainly the company does not seem to have very good contingency plans given widespread criticism from stranded passengers. They have a case. Why, for example, can it not simply run a fleet of coaches to take people to Calais via a ferry and from there to Paris by train, or even arrange for people to go the old way, with a train to Dover, the ferry and then a train?
I happened to be at St Pancras on Thursday night and there seemed to be more police guarding the deserted entrance to the departures lounge than Eurostar staff dealing with stranded passengers.
As far as the incident itself is concerned, with reports that fire fighters were still dousing the blaze last into Thursday night, the tunnel may have suffered just as much damage as last time, in 1996. Then, I remember a mad dash in my car to get to Folkestone when Eurotunnel suddenly rang me up and offered the opportunity to go inspect the damage. It was a remarkable experience as the fire had caused large amounts of concrete to come away from the tunnel lining and it was no surprise that it took months to repair. There is still plenty of spare capacity in the tunnel given that there are barely any freight trains using it and it will be possible to operate trains in one direction at a time using the switchovers but there will still be considerable disruption while they repair the burnt part.
Eurostar will have plenty of time to learn how to run in difficult circumstances. On TV I was asked whether this will have any long term impact on the service and I very much doubt it. Eurostar has been gaining market share simply because it is by far the most convenient – and generally the most reliable – way of travelling between London and Paris or Brussels. But it does go to show that the service is terribly vulnerable to disruption in the tunnel.
I must say, I am very surprised that the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority allowed in this particular chemical, phenol, into the tunnel when so many substances are banned. Perhaps someone out there knows a bit more about this?

  • Dan

    Err – regretably it seems we might be back here again….are the contingency plans not yet in place? Or should Northern Rail takeover the concession maybe?

    From the Guardian:

    “Eurostar’s chief executive, Richard Brown, visited queues at St Pancras, telling frustrated customers he was “very, very sorry”. He admitted the situation had taken too long to resolve. Passengers trapped underground in trains with broken lavatories, temperatures above 25C (77F) and only emergency lighting criticised train staff’s response as “terrible”. “

  • erick

    Northern Rail? booooo. people should start checking this blog about http://northern-rail-fail.blogspot.com/
    the customers are finally voicing out

  • Dan

    Just checked it erick – afraid I’ve got to say that is one really pretty poor website. I suspect customers (aka passengers in my book) have been ‘voicing out’ for some time, but I suspect there are better places to do that than there. Sorry – but it looks like the ‘Pacer’ equivalent of a bog site to me…

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