Eurostar enquiry has a lot of questions to answer

Just been to a briefing with a very tired looking Richard Brown, the head of Eurostar, and Chris Garnett (the former boss of GNER, not Network Rail as reported in the Guardian) who is conducting, along with a French colleague, the enquiry into what happened. He is hoping to publish the report by the end of January but that is a very tight schedule given how much there is to investigate.

There is not only the initial breakdowns, but the response of the onboard teams, the maintenance of the trains, whether the weather conditions were really that unique, the subsequent handling of the delayed passengers, the cancellation of all the trains, and so on.

Richard Brown was very circumspect about what work had precisely been carried out to mitigate the problems. The suggestion I have made several times in broadcasts that maintenance issues may be involved is, I suspect, close to the mark. The failure of five trains is obviously absolutely exceptional but does suggest that rather more than mere weather conditions are at fault. Brown told us that the failure was in a component called the motor block, whereas previous similar failures had been in the common block, a different part of the electronics.

Already, Eurostar compounded its initial cock ups by announcing yesterday that only people who had booked for the weekend would be allowed on the trains. That was daft. It was obvious that many people would have made alternative arrangements – see previous entry on this website about Eurolines running lots of extra coaches which was hardly mentioned in the press, as well as BA flying a 747 between London and Paris – and so I bet trains have been leaving without being full. So then halfway through yesterday, Eurostar announced that it would except Monday tickets for Tuesday train. Then, having said it would clear the backlog, it then said that not everyone would be accommodated.

This is characteristic of the whole exercise. There has been a real absence of leadership and of can-do spirit. There is bound to be changes in leadership at Eurostar, but it may take more than that to change the culture.

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