Simon Calder: Keep moving - the lessons for Eurostar

Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst: that travel maxim has been especially appropriate this week. Last Saturday hundreds of people woke up (if they had ever managed to sleep) on the floor of a Eurotunnel car-carrying shuttle, a grim dawn that beats even the morning after The Independent office party. They occupied this makeshift dormitory after being among the 2,000 people "rescued" from the five Eurostar trains that were sent into the Anglo-French hole in the ground that devours reputations as effortlessly as it does rolling stock.

Hindsight, coupled with being in the happy position of having to operate nothing more complicated than this keyboard, makes it easy to pontificate on how Eurostar could or should have handled the chaos following the train failure and the three-day closure of the link between western Europe's two biggest cities.

Given that travellers were aiming for places barely 200 miles away, could the train operator not have snapped up every spare motor coach in southern England and northern France, and lined them up outside London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord on Saturday morning?

Remember how we used to travel before the Tunnel opened in 1994. Passengers could have been shuttled to one of the Channel crossing routes unaffected by extreme weather – perhaps Newhaven-Dieppe, Portsmouth-Le Havre or even Harwich-Hook of Holland – and onwards to their destination. Sure, the journey would have taken five times as long as the high-speed train, but the problem may have melted away as surely as fluffy French snow in a warm tunnel.

The company did manage to charter a couple of flights on Sunday evening, and a fleet of coaches ran from Disneyland Paris. But Eurostar arranged alternative transport for only 5,000 people, about one in 20 of those hit by the three-day shutdown. People are happier when they are moving, rather than being moved along by staff at St Pancras station and asked to come back in a couple of days.

"We put in the best alternatives we could," says a Eurostar spokeswoman, "given an extreme set of circumstances".

Meanwhile a much bigger travel nightmare was unfolding in the air. Ryanair and Wizz Air passengers suffered some cancellations on Monday and Tuesday, and British Airways cancelled its entire European and domestic flight programme from Heathrow after 7pm on Monday. But by Tuesday then, Britain's leading budget airline, easyJet, was in far worse shape. It was hit by extreme weather at some of its Continental airports, including Geneva and Milan, as well as snow and ice in the UK.

If easyJet says "80 per cent of our flights are operating", that spells chaos: with more than 1,000 scheduled departures each day, it means least 200 cancellations. Which, with every available seat taken, equals 30,000 people failing to travel. Multiply that by several days and with lesser problems across other airlines, and I reckon that as many as 200,000 travellers woke up on Christmas morning somewhere they were not expecting to be.

The only word for their dismal circumstances is "festation". It's a variant on that unlikeable construct, the "staycation". When a planned festive vacation is scuppered, and you end up festering at home, that's a festation.

Among the disappointed people at St Pancras last weekend were 71 individuals whose plans for the weekend had been wrecked by that dodgy French snow. They were the drivers of Eurostar trains whose industrial action that day was rendered irrelevant, since nature combined with technology had proved as effective as a walk-out. But their union, Aslef, has done UK travellers proud: announcing a separate Christmas and New Year strike, this time on lines south of London, for which an astonishing amount of notice has been given.

The train drivers' union is unhappy about the decision by Southern Trains not to classify the Monday after Christmas as a public holiday, thereby depriving members of some useful overtime pay. Aslef has therefore notified the public of a proposed strike for 27 December 2010, with further action on 3 January 2011. This will affect some train services between central London and Gatwick airport.

True, the union has also called drivers out next Tuesday, but with alternatives such as First Capital Connect – not to mention National Express and easyBus – hardly anyone will care. Warning prospective passengers about a strike the year after next is about as benign as transport disruption gets. And who knows: the dispute might even be settled by 2011.

Cool down, everyone

The wrong kind of country? That was the national sentiment as everywhere from Basingstoke to Blackpool airport ground to a halt.

In one high-pressure interview last Saturday, Eurostar's chief executive, Richard Brown, inadvertently talked about the difficult timing for travellers "in the build-up to Easter".

In the event, most Eurostar passengers were successfully delivered in advance of Christmas. But as his company gets back on track, it is fair to reflect that almost all the time, our transport system works better than we have the right to expect in a crowded, complicated nation with vintage infrastructure held together with string.

If Reading becomes gridlocked because of ice and snow, as it did on Tuesday, that does not mean an end to western civilisation – nor even Great Western trains, which continued to serve the town. Expect a government initiative to counter chilling to be announced very soon, whereupon we will forget all about it until the next cold snap.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice