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Eurostar chaos: How can I get home and what are my rights?

A total of 41 trains were cancelled, leaving upwards of 30,000 passengers with no immediate way to reach their destination – and uncertain about their entitlement to compensation

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 30 December 2023 22:22 GMT
Waiting game: Eurostar passengers at London St Pancras International on Saturday 30 December, when all trains to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels were cancelled
Waiting game: Eurostar passengers at London St Pancras International on Saturday 30 December, when all trains to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels were cancelled (Simon Calder)

Tens of thousands of Eurostar passengers have had their New Year travel plans torn up due to flooding on the High Speed 1 line between London and Ebbsfleet in Kent.

Problems began on Friday evening, with many trains delayed. It was hoped services would be able to start up on Saturday morning. But as the day wore on more and more trains were cancelled, until Eurostar finally announced during the afternoon that no services would run at all on Saturday.

A total of 41 have been trains cancelled, leaving upwards of 30,000 passengers with no immediate way to reach their destination.

Unfortunately for those travellers, care and compensation rights for international rail travellers are far less comprehensive and generous than for airline passengers.

How long will the trouble last?

Eurostar says it will run all services to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve, 31 December 2023.

A spokesperson said: “Flooding in the Thames tunnels has been brought under control by Network Rail High Speed meaning at least one tunnel can now be used and a full service can operate.

“There will be some speed restrictions in place in the morning which may lead to delays and stations are expected to be very busy.

But all the passengers booked on Saturday trains now go to the back of the queue.

What are the chances of rebooking for a train on Sunday?

Very few seats are available from London to Paris on Sunday 31 December. In the opposite direction, only the last train of the day has availability: in Business Premier at £326 one way.

Regrettaly, Eurostar does not allow free upgrades during disruption. This is unlike airlines, which must put a stranded passenger in business class if that is the only seat available.

Can I fly home?

Air fares between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and London have predictably soared, and many flights have sold out.

The last seat on a British Airways flight from Paris to London on New Year’s Eve was sold at a one-way fare of almost £700.

How else can I get home?

The easiest terrestrial alternative is from Amsterdam (or Rotterdam) to London by rail and sea: take the train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, then the Metro to Hook of Holland. Stena Line has cabins available for the 10pm sailing to Harwich. With a bunk bed, you can sail all the way to Essex for £125.

Trains connect from Harwich towards London – though Network Rail engineering works make it a long train-bus-train journey to the capital.

Brussels passengers are best advised to travel via Rotterdam and Hook of Holland.

From Paris, the most direct route is to take the train from Gare St-Lazare via Rouen to Dieppe – but all tickets for the ferry to Newhaven in East Sussex have been sold out for Saturday night and there appears no availability until 4 January.

Calais-Dover is an alternative ferry crossing – but P&O Ferries has no availability for foot passengers from Calais to Dover on Sunday 31 December. No other ferry firm carries foot passengers, though if desperate you could buy a cheap bike and cycle it aboard a DFDS Ferries vessel.

If you can pre-book a Calais-Dover ferry on Monday, take a train to Calais Ville station, from where you can sail as a foot passenger on the P&O Ferries departures at 10.30am, 3.50pm and 7pm.

A shuttle bus runs from Calais Ville to the port. Arrive at the P&O desk at least 90 minutes before departure – with a confirmed booking. You cannot buy foot passenger tickets at the port.

The budget option is by coach: FlixBus has availability from all Eurostar cities to London.

I spent a fortune on flights. Can I claim the extra back from Eurostar?

In aviation, when an airline cancels a flight it must cover the cost of getting you to your destination as soon as possible (including, if nothing else is available, in Business Premier class on Eurostar).

No parallel exists for international trains. Air fares have surged way beyond normal levels, but all you can claim back from Eurostar is the original price of your ticket.

Again, travel insurance is the best route for a claim for extra costs.

What care costs am I entitled to from Eurostar?

If you are stranded – eg British travellers at Paris heading for London – you are entitled to up to €170/£150 per room per night for a hotel, and meal costs of up to €60/£50 for each 24-hour stay.

Transfers between the Eurostar station and the hotel or final destination are payable up to €170/£150 per vehicle (not per person).

Passengers at Paris Gare du Nord have told The Independent that uniformed Eurostar staff insisted there is no obligation to pay for hotels and meals because the cause of the problem is beyond Eurostar’s control. Eurostar in London said that such information is incorrect, and that confusion may have arisen because if passengers can simply return home, they are not entitled to the duty of care.

If I just give up and go home from London St Pancras International, what am I due?

You can expect a rapid refund of your fare and possibly a voucher for future travel.

Can I claim the cost of a prepaid hotel abroad?

No. You are unable to claim for costs triggered by the cancellation, such as a hotel in Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam that you cannot reach. Travel insurance may cover such a loss.

What about cash compensation?

There is no possibility of an airline-style payout of hundreds of pounds. The best you can hope for is, if you travel with Eurostar, you may get the cost of your ticket refunded and/or a voucher for a future journey – despite having (eventually) travelled.

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