Tripper trouble at the Chunnel

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POLICE were called yesterday as irate passengers, turned away from the Channel Tunnel's "turn-up-and-go" car service, blockaded Le Shuttle's Folkestone terminal.

Hundreds of passengers, some who had driven hundreds of miles for a weekend in Calais, were refused places on Le Shuttle yesterday morning when they arrived to find trains at Folkestone overbooked.

They mounted a demonstration at eight tollbooths, blocking the entrance with their cars, and preventing passengers with prepaid tickets from boarding. Long queues formed as angry drivers honked their horns in protest.

Passengers said that they had been advised by booking agents on Friday night that tickets would be available on the day.

But when they arrived they were told to either leave the terminal or wait for hours. Kent police were called at about 9am to break up the blockade but no arrests were made.

Booking agents at Eurotunnel said they had underestimated the number of people who would turn up. They said that the chaos was likely to continue throughout the weekend - which is the most popular time for trips to France.

"It's just bizarre," said one yesterday. "All these prepaid cars turned up about 7am and then hundreds of other people. There are still loads of cars and long queues. We are not advising anyone to turn up until Monday morning."

A Eurotunnel spokeswoman said: "We are asking people to seek alternative routes unless they have pre-booked tickets. We're not taking any reservations."

The rush was exacerbated in the afternoon by the arrival of hundreds of people who had taken up a special discount offer in the Sunday Mirror, which offered readers a £29 return fare "shopping trip" valid until the end of March.

Many frustrated passengers left the terminal and took ferry services from Dover to France instead.

Le Shuttle has been in operation since 22 December last year and operates an hourly service, 24 hours a day, between Folkestone and France. A five day return costs £75 and a standard return £136 until the end of this month when Spring prices will be announced.

A spokesman said the company had no plans to review the system. Le Shuttle is ending its prepaid booking system and from next month all customers will have to "turn up and go".