Passengers stranded in Channel tunnel train

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(Photograph omitted)

HUNDREDS of train passengers who took part in a Channel tunnel evacuation rehearsal were later delayed under the seabed by a real breakdown.

The failure, affecting the overhead power line feeding the pounds 23m Eurostar train, was the third reported breakdown in the tunnel in the five weeks since it was officially opened. The first two involved freight shuttle trains.

The latest outing by 800 people on the Eurostar train - awaiting introduction on passenger services between London, Paris and Brussels - was designed to test evacuation procedures, Eurotunnel said.

The evacuation to a service tunnel giving access to the other track - where 'real life' stranded passengers would be rescued by another train - had been carried out without a hitch, it said.

Those taking part included members of British and French railway inspectorates and other safety experts. Many of the 800 were French and had left the train when it set out to return to England. The power failure on Saturday affected one 500-metre stretch of wire. The 16,000hp train came to a stop when it reached the section. A diesel locomotive moved the train on to a 'live' section and the journey was able to continue.

Eurotunnel said the delay to the train was 'not too long and it was decided that there was no point in evacuating it. Our engineers are looking at what the fault was. It is all part of what you expect to happen when you are starting up a new railway or anything else.'

The rehearsal was 'part of a series of evacuation tests we have been carrying out', it said.

On Tuesday last week 10 lorry drivers were evacuated from the tunnel when a false alarm caused a train to stop midway between England and France. The problem in the train, which was travelling from Folkestone to Calais, was a faulty warning system which indicated that the props which are used during loading had engaged.

The drivers were evacuated through the service tunnel to the other line where a train took them back to England.

They eventually rejoined their vehicles after a delay of more than two hours.

It was the first time a train has had to be evacuated in the tunnel.