The only passengers now arriving on Eurostar: Mrs Marvel Crumpacker and daughter

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The Independent Online
IThe first Eurostar passenger service to run since the Channel Tunnel fire arrived 15 minutes late in Paris yesterday, carrying only four passengers.

The 5.50am from London Waterloo left on time with 15 crew and 10 reporters, but not a single paying passenger on its 800 seats.

It was not until the scheduled stop at Ashford in Kent that Mrs Marvel Crumpacker, 58, a tourist from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and her pregnant daughter, Denise Bouwers, 35, climbed on board for a day-trip to Paris.

Eurostar staff promptly rushed forward with a bottle of champagne to help them celebrate on the journey.

A somewhat bewildered Mrs Crumpacker said: "I was surprised when we arrived at Ashford station and it was so empty. We thought it would be very busy.

"We are going home tomorrow and this was our last chance to go to Paris. Friends booked us tickets on Monday but we couldn't go. We didn't realise this was the first train."

The journey held no fear for them, said her daughter. "We don't feel nervous at all," she said. "We've heard a lot about Eurostar in the States and I saw it in the film Mission Impossible.

After a 30-minute journey through the tunnel, the train picked up two more passengers at Calais. There was no sign of any damage from last month's disastrous fire which caused millions of pounds worth of damage and forced one of the two tunnels to close for extensive repairs.

The train was, however, obliged to drop its speed from 100mph to 60mph as it travelled through the undamaged tunnel in the area of the fire. Eurostar claimed that the lack of passengers was because safety officials only agreed at 6pm on Tuesday for the passenger services to restart. People had not had a chance to book, it was said.

Fiona McCallum, 33, the train manager, said that she had never known such a scarcity of customers. "We usually have about 200 passengers, mostly business people, on this train," she complained.

A Eurostar spokesman, Roger Harrison, said that the trains had to run regardless of the number of passengers to ensure that rolling stock and crew were in the right place to meet timetable commitments. Mr Harrison said that he expected more people to be using services later.

As Mrs Crumpacker and the other three passengers arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris, they were greeted with the sight of ranks of police and soldiers armed with automatic weapons and knives, who had been drafted in after Tuesday night's bomb attack on the underground.

Trains are expected to run up to half-an-hour late while repairs are undertaken to damaged track. Full Channel Tunnel services may not run for as long as five months.

Eurotunnel's co-chairman, Robert Malpas, said that work on repairing the fire-hit section of the tunnel would take "three to five months", and that when passenger shuttle trains start running again next Tuesday, the company will have about two-thirds of a normal service going through the tunnel.

Both Mr Malpas and Eurostar's UK deputy chairman, Adam Mills, rejected suggestions that their companies were putting profits before safety in restarting services.