Over the last 48 hours there has been much searching for the root of the problems Eurostar has been facing. There has been plenty of human incompetence for sure, but at the start the trains were at fault. I’ve consistently been tweeting that the problems are not unprecedented and have indeed been encountered before, and now I have managed to dig up the evidence – this 2003 story from The Guardian:

Trains running in freezing temperatures lost power as they hit warm, humid air in the Channel Tunnel yesterday causing them to break down, a Eurostar spokesman said.

Condensation formed on the trains when the cold engines entered the tunnel where the air was much warmer – about 28C (82F) – hampering electrical systems, according to the official. “It knocks out the overhead electrical supply,” he said.

It’s exactly the same problem as now, only in reverse (i.e. that time the trains were going UK-France, rather than France-UK). Why then does The Guardian stick a piece on its website today saying:

Specialist engineers are still uncertain exactly why Eurostar’s usually trouble-free trains failed so disastrously, after running unaffected in previous cold snaps. The firm blamed the sudden contrast for the high speed engines between freezing temperatures above ground and the heat of the tunnel. […]

“It’s all a bit of a mystery and the company, and indeed a lot of people, appear baffled by it,” said Nigel Harris, managing editor of Rail magazine. “But the fact that the problem has affected London-bound trains rather than ones leaving St Pancras may have been due to the fact that those heading away from London have less time to get cold.

What a load of crap. Why did no-one at The Guardian think to look at their back issues? And clearly Nigel Harris doesn’t have a clue either. OK, in 2003 HSL 1 was not open, but the problem has happened the other way around, and for sure is not unprecedented. This of course has not stopped The Independent running a story in a similar vein – and it’s even currently the most read article on The Independent’s website, and part of it is wrong.

4 Comments

  1. James Burnside

    looks like Eurostar have a big case to answer to:

    PARIS, 11 fév 2010 (AFP) – Eurostar, dont plusieurs trains sont restés bloqués en décembre dans le tunnel sous la Manche, a mal préparé ses trains pour l’hiver et les secours aux passagers, selon le rapport d’une commission d’experts dont le quotidien Le Parisien dévoile les grandes lignes jeudi.
    Eurostar, détenue majoritairement par la compagnie nationale ferroviaire française (SNCF), n’aurait pas préparé à temps ses trains pour l’hiver, selon le quotidien. Le bimensuel spécialisé Ville Rail & Transports avait déjà indiqué que la compagnie ferroviaire n’aurait pas procédé à temps à ce processus dit de “winterisation”, ce qu’Eurostar a démenti.
    Eurostar n’a pas non plus entretenu suffisamment les trains vieillissants de son parc ferroviaire, affirme le Parisien.
    Les experts recommandent par conséquent de renforcer les dispositifs empêchant la neige d’entrer dans les endroits sensibles et de mieux protéger les circuits imprimés.
    Autre critique, les mesures préventives pour aider les passagers ont été insuffisantes et les deux experts mandatés par Eurostar préconisent la mise en place d’une cellule de crise pour mieux les informer à l’avenir et une meilleure formation des agents.
    La commission estime aussi qu’Eurotunnel, le gestionnaire du tunnel sous la Manche, devrait prévoir plus de deux dépanneuses et augmenter le nombre de lampes-torches.

  2. Well they are all running today, because I’ve just got back from Amsterdam. They’re just reduced the number of trains which makes them safer but doesn’t cancel the services altogether. The main Ashford website, and all the other station websites say all the info.

  3. Daniel

    I was told by a Eurostar route manager that Eurostar was (as of earlier in 2009, when trains also broke down because of the snow) working on a long-term solution to the problem, and that they were simply rushed into implementing it when the trains got stuck in the tunnel this month.

    I don’t know why they initially claimed that these conditions were “unprecedented”.

  4. I know for a fact their services will be up and running as soon as today or tomorrow. Calm down, world! At least it wasn’t air travel.

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