Calais strikes likely to happen again, warns Government

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill says he fears 'we’ve got more trouble to come'

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The Independent Online

The Government expects more closures of the Channel Tunnel by protesting My Ferry Link workers at Calais.

After a demonstration at the French port on Tuesday caused massive disruption for travellers, the Transport Minister, Robert Goodwill, told The Independent: “I suspect that the My Ferry Link workers are still in a bad place. I’d like to think this is an isolated incident and that they’re now prepared to get around the table, but I think we’ve got more trouble to come.”

He said that the Transport Secretary had a meeting with the Prime Minister this morning about the dramatic scenes at Calais with intending migrants trying to climb aboard trucks and cars as they queued.

Eurotunnel, which operates the tunnel and the vehicle shuttle between Folkestone and Calais, closed the link for a time after protesting ferry workers reportedly started a fire in the tunnel. Mr Goodwill hit out at European governments for failing to stand up to strikers: “Our EU colleagues do tend to cave in to these sorts of problems which just encourages more of the same. It is unacceptable to the travelling public that we have these problems.”

Shortly before midnight last night Eurotunnel, which runs car and truck shuttles between Folkestone and Calais, said that services had returned to normal with no waiting times. But such was the build up in delays “Operation Stack” is still in force on the eastern end of the M20 in Kent, with the motorway closed to normal traffic and in use as a truck park.

Around 15,000 passengers on Eurostar trains who were hoping to travel yesterday through the Channel Tunnel woke up this morning in the wrong country. St Pancras station in London, as well as the stations in Paris, Brussels and Lille, had long queues of travellers trying to find out their options.

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Passengers waiting for Eurostar trains at London's St Pancras station

Eurostar’s ability to cope with disruption has been called into question following the shutdown of the Channel Tunnel and the cancellation of all passenger services between London, Paris and Brussels on Tuesday afternoon. Services started running again this morning.

But the online re-booking service did not appear to be working smoothly. At around midnight, Eurostar tweeted: “If you submitted a webform request for travel Wednesday, all trains leaving London are full and we're now rebooking for Thursday.”

Many travellers instead decided to join a queue for hours and be booked on the next available train. Some bought new tickets, because Eurostar was still selling seats at peak prices even as passengers were waiting in line to try to complete their journeys.

Sue and Ken Elliott from Manchester faced a stay in Lille dressed only in T-shirts, shorts and sandals, because they had popped over for the day.

“We’re camping in Ashford in Kent, and we thought we would go to Lille for the day. We came to get the train back at 4.30pm but then they said everything was cancelled. We don’t know where we’re going to end up today. You’ve got to laugh.”

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Nancy Broderick-Ward was travelling from Lyon to London with her 17-month-old son. They were due to change trains in Lille. “When I got to Lille it was a bit manic, no-one seemed to know what was going on. I was supposed to be working in London today, but I’m not now.”

She was travelling with her 17-month child, queued for 90 minutes, and was authorised to catch the first train from Lille only when she pleaded with station staff.

Twenty-five Eurostar services were cancelled on Tuesday. Eurostar has laid on one extra return trip between Paris and London on Wednesday.

The train operator believes that everyone who needs to travel urgently will be found space on a service at some time on Thursday.

Late on Wednesday afternoon they tweeted: “Our team are working hard to process the last of your exchange requests, we’ll start providing refunds next.”

P&O Ferries, the biggest operator between Dover and Calais, said “Roads are busy in both ports, please allow extra time.” Sailings were slightly delayed because of the volume of traffic, but spaces were still available in both directions.

The Foreign Office warned British motorists returning from Calais to “Keep vehicle doors locked in slow-moving traffic,” because of the risk that intending migrants might try to get into cars and lorries at the port.

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