Channel tunnel back on track after chaos

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Transport Correspondent

Train services through the Channel tunnel returned to near normal yesterday after the worst couple of days in the project's short history.

There were only a few cancellations on Eurostar trains yesterday and most were running on time while the backlog of truck drivers seeking to go through the tunnel on Le Shuttle services, which caused chaos on the adjoining motorway, finally cleared late on Wednesday night. Several thousand Eurostar passengers will be entitled to free trips after suffering delays of up to 15 hours on their trips between London, Paris and Brussels.

Engineers yesterday were still trying to ascertain the precise cause of the breakdown of two Eurostar trains in the tunnel on Tuesday, but it is thought they are pinpointing the cause as water getting into the electric systems. A spokesman for EPS, the British arm of the consortium that runs the Eurostar service, said: "We're still examining various possibilities but one likely is that water and ice got into the parts of the system and wiring which rainwater does not normally reach." He said that the driving snow was the main cause.

While most of the difficulties were experienced by the Eurostar trains, the tunnel itself was hampered by points freezing up at both entrances, and the failure of one of its Le Shuttle trains early on Tuesday which blocked one line.

On Wednesday, about half of Eurostar trains had been taken out of service for minor repairs for damage caused to their electricity equipment - which is linked to the signalling system - by ice, snow and ballast dislodged by extreme conditions.

However, yesterday most were operating and virtually all will be back in service in time for Friday's usual rush.

Last night, a spokesman for EPS said the Eurostar breakdowns were made worse by the weather, track failures, both in Britain and in France, and the problems in the tunnel.

He said: "The trains are not fragile, they are built to withstand reasonable weather conditions, but the weather was very bad indeed. We did have problems but these should be seen in the context of those suffered on the roads and by the ferries and airlines."