Icy brew wreaks havoc in Channel Tunnel

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The Independent Online
Delicate electronics and a potent mixture of snow, salt and ice have been blamed for two incidents in which passengers on Eurostar trains were marooned in the Channel Tunnel.

About 1,000 people were stuck for several hours on Monday, raising doubts about the ability of the tunnel to cope with extreme weather.

"Snow, ice and moisture carried into the tunnel to create problems when combined with the micro-climate of the tunnel," a spokeswoman for Eurotunnel said, emphasising that it had operated largely without problems during previous bouts of poor weather. On Monday a train with 800 passengers which set out at 1pm took 15 hours to reach Paris; the journey should have taken three hours.

Passengers were stuck in the tunnel for three hours and at one point emergency batteries ran low, leaving them in darkness. After the train was rescued, they were bused to a conventional train at Calais.

The second group, which left London just before 9am on a train to Brussels, took nine hours to reach Calais, after being stuck first on British tracks and then in the tunnel for two hours. Both trains failed completely and were hauled out of the tunnel by locomotives kept available for the task.

The Shuttle service for cars between Folkestone and Calais was also cancelled for much of Monday. By 8.30am that day many trains had been delayed because a train failed at the French portal, causing the blockage of one of the two lines through the tunnel. The mishaps are another setback for Eurotunnel, owner of the venture, one of the key selling points of which was its ability to operate reliably during winter, when Channel crossings are disrupted by weather.

The spokeswoman said: "The extreme weather ... caused severe problems but we did manage to stay open throughout, even if we weren't providing a full service."