Passenger and vehicle services through the Channel Tunnel have resumed after yesterday’s fire, but delays are predicted because one of the two running tunnels remains closed. Simon Calder looks ahead - and explains passengers’ rights.
Q. A reminder of the different transport operators that use the Channel Tunnel?
A. Eurostar is the passenger train operation, which runs from London St Pancras to Paris, Lille and Brussels. Eurotunnel is the car- and truck-carrying service, on which the problem originated yesterday. There was a smouldering load on a truck travelling between Calais and Folkestone which set off smoke detectors. The train was stopped and everyone was evacuated. The entire tunnel system was closed. Fortunately for car and truck drivers, Eurotunnel owns its own ferry service, MyFerryLink, which soaked up the excess without too many problems. The south-running tunnel was re-opened at around 3am, with shuttles running alternately in both directions.
Q. What about Eurostar?
A. Services are running again with delays. One line through the tunnel is a lot less than half as efficient as two lines. The only way to get it to work is to line up a series of trains at either end, run them through then when they’re clear switch direction, which means delays - Eurostar estimates 30-60 minutes.
Yesterday about 12,000 people were left in the wrong place, and have been staying in hotels overnight. Some of them will have abandoned their journeys and can get a refund or rebook any time for the next four months, but many of them have pressing reasons to travel.
People holding tickets for today take priority over travellers who were stuck yesterday. Eurostar has been stressing that passengers from Saturday should not turn up at stations without confirmed bookings. However, anyone who ignored the advice was likely to be given a ticket on the first train, with some lucky passengers upgraded to Business Premier.
Q. What compensation are passengers entitled to?
A. Eurostar allowed £150 for a hotel room and £50 per person for meals for passengers stranded. It is likely that the purchase price of all tickets will be refunded. And it is understood that for contingent expenses - e.g. hotels that passengers had paid for but were unable to reach - will be looked at by Eurostar on a “case by case basis”.
Q. There are particular problems at Disneyland …
A. Yes, this is a Ski Train that set off yesterday afternoon from the French Alps with about 600 British skiers returning from their winter-sports trips abroad. They were stopped at Marne La Vallee, the station for Disneyland Paris, and put up overnight in various hotels. They were told to get to the station at 6.30 our time, but tweets I’ve seen suggest that their problems continue. They are being taken to Paris, where they are going to undergo passport and security checks before their train is allowed to continue.
Q. Will disruption continue into the coming week?
A. That depends what the Channel Tunnel engineers are seeing. If there is anything more than superficial damage caused by the fire then one bore could be closed for days or weeks, which will cause real problems during the week - many business travellers depend on Eurostar and there could be cancellations tomorrow. But the indications are that running in both tunnels should resume at some point today.
Q. It’s not the first fire in the tunnel …
A. No, I make it the fourth, all apparently caused by problems with trucks, but thankfully it’s at the benign end of the spectrum. In 1996 a fire caused damage that affected operations for six months. Ten years later, a small fire of the kind we saw today closed the tunnel for a few hours. And in 2008, another fire caused considerable damage and meant only a limited service could be offered for a further five months. After this latest disruption there will be questions about how carefully vehicles on Eurotunnel are checked - and how well Eurostar deals with disruption.Reuse content