A love affair with trains is like marriage to a serial philanderer. Just when things are going well, they let you down – again.
Eurostar is usually a fantastic service. London to Paris or Brussels in around two hours, a window with a view and that superior feeling of overtaking cars that seem to be going backwards as you whizz past at twice their speed. Then railways go and remind you why Dr Beeching had such an easy time of it.
Since the high-speed line between London and the Channel Tunnel opened two years ago people have been abandoning planes for trains. That was good for the planet and even spurred politicians of all parties to contemplate a high-speed network around Britain. Now many of these people will be back in the air. After all, you don’t get five planes falling out of the sky in quick succession.
You can just about forgive Eurostar for having one or two trains fail. Or possibly all five, if staff had coped with the resulting problems. But they didn’t. Sure, it was not easy given that each train had about 700 people on board and there were not enough rescue locomotives. And the tunnel is 50km long.
But they could, at least, ensure that the passengers were able to breathe. A basic right, one would have thought, but apparently health and safety precludes the doors being opened in the tunnel even though there is a walkway throughout which gives easy access to the safety tunnel.
And where was the Dunkirk spirit? Could the sandwich shops of Folkestone and Calais not have been co-opted to feed the hungry hordes sitting in the dark and sweltering heat? Apparently not. Eurostar told me, shockingly, that it cannot speak to its staff on board trains once they enter the tunnel because “there’s no mobile connection and so we have to go through Eurotunnel”, which is a completely separate company.
That’s the nub of the problem. Nobody took overall responsibility. The tone adopted by Richard Brown, the head of Eurostar, said it all. He was vaguely apologetic, but he did not get the enormity of the cock-up. Like a football manager whose team had just lost 7-0 he still thought they had played well.
Despite all this, next time I’m heading for Paris or Brussels, or even places farther afield, I’ll trudge down to St Pancras International, because like many cuckolds, I’ll always come back for more, however badly I’m treated. Trains are, after all, the best form of transport, even if they are sometimes the worst.