EUROSTAR NIGHTMARE CONTINUES! – passengers told to stay away

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Eurotunnel closed its shuttle car service to new arrivals yesterday, saying it was at ‘saturation point’, as travellers struggled to find alternative ways of reaching France as Eurostar services remained suspended.

Passengers were told to go home, with Eurotunnel citing ‘severe technical problems’.

The announcement came mid-morning as Eurostar launched a review into train breakdowns which have stranded and delayed tens of thousands of passengers since Friday.

While testing modifications to better cope with snow, Eurostar services were suspended for a third day.

A statement on the company’s website said it ‘sincerely regretted’ having to halt services for a third day.

Travellers who had bookings for Saturday, Sunday or Monday will be able to claim ‘reasonable out-of-pocket expenses’ for hotel, transport and meal costs.

By mid-afternoon, Eurostar chief executive Richard Brown said tests had been successful.

He said: ‘We’ve made modifications to cope with the extreme weather conditions in northern France, that’s what has been causing the problems.’

He said the firm hoped to run two-thirds of the normal service today – amounting to about 26,000 seats, with more services planned on Wednesday and Thursday.

However, he urged as many people as possible to stay away because of the huge backlog of passengers still waiting.

More than 55,000 travellers had journeys cancelled after six trains broke down in the tunnel, with Eurostar blaming ‘unprecedented’ winter weather in France.

The review followed the cancellation of services and the trapping of 2,000 passengers on six trains in the Channel Tunnel on Friday and Saturday.

Many passengers spoke of their ‘nightmare’ experiences of hours stuck in the tunnel with little food and water, and said there was a disorganised response from the authorities.

Eurostar said the review would be an independent inquiry led by Christopher Garnett, a former commercial director of Eurotunnel and chief executive of rail company GNER, and Claude Gressier, who is inspector general of bridges and roads in France.

Transport Minister Sadiq Khan said he had asked for the review to report not to the Eurostar board but to him and to shareholders.

He said that ‘thousands and thousands of families are having their Christmas ruined this year’ and he would be speaking to his French and Belgian counterparts about the issue.

France also announced yesterday that it is launching an investigation into the Eurostar breakdowns.

Speaking from Beijing, where he was accompanying Prime Minister Francois Fillon on an official visit to China, French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said: ‘This is something that is not normal.

‘The transport ministry will launch an inquiry to make sure that we know what happened, how it happened and how to avoid such events in the future.’

He added: ‘There have already been incidents in the Eurotunnel.

‘But to have traffic blocked for several days in a row, that is not acceptable.’

Airlines took advantage of the situation. British Airways said it was operating larger aircraft on many flights between London Heathrow and Paris on Monday, and Flybe said it was also increasing capacity to help ease the situation.

But EasyJet complained that French aviation authorities had imposed flight restrictions on the airline at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, leading to delays and cancellations.