Page last updated at 17:29 GMT, Sunday, 20 December 2009

Eurostar transports 500 vulnerable passengers to France

Richard Brown of Eurostar said it was important to learn the lessons

Eurostar has begun moving 500 of its "most vulnerable" passengers from London to France after its trains were suspended in wintry weather.

Stranded passengers were put on Javelin trains to Dover to catch ferries and then coaches on to Paris and Brussels.

The emergency plan was introduced after thousands were trapped in the Channel Tunnel on six trains on Friday and Saturday night, when electrics failed.

Eurostar has said it will not sell any tickets until after 26 December.

The company ran test trains without passengers on Sunday after five trains broke down in the tunnel on Friday when condensation affected electrical systems.

Another train, which had been laid on to try to clear the backlog, suffered the same fate on Saturday night.

Flights grounded

Those stranded complained of a lack of food and drink, power supplies and information and there were further problems when some rescue trains themselves broke down.

A Eurostar spokeswoman said: "We have managed to get 500 passengers on to a Javelin high-speed train to Dover Priory and from there we bussed then on to a ferry to take them on to Paris and Brussels.

"They were the most vulnerable people, who needed to get back home to France and Belgium."

No arrangements were in place for Britons stuck in France, she added.

Meanwhile, severe weather warnings remain in place in northern parts of the UK and freezing conditions have continued to disrupt travel.

Snow has fallen and is expected to continue to fall in Northern Ireland, western Scotland and north-western parts of England, and temperatures will remain below freezing.

Ambulance services have urged people to take extra care walking and driving and to wrap up warm.

At Bristol International Airport hundreds of people were stranded when Easyjet scrapped five flights.

Flights were grounded for 90 minutes at Manchester Airport on Sunday morning as staff moved snow and de-iced a runway.

There have been delays at Belfast International Airport after it closed but later reopened, and Inverness Airport has also been disrupted.

EUROSTAR ADVICE
If your journey is not essential, do not travel
A full refund will be offered to those whose journeys have been affected
Passengers whose journeys were severely disrupted on Friday or Saturday will also be given £150 compensation and a free return ticket
Hotels will be offered for those who had wanted to travel on Sunday
All updates will be posted on the Eurostar website and given out to news outlets

Eurostar passenger Claire McKinney Williams, who is 35 weeks pregnant and unable to fly, was stranded at a hotel in Brussels.

She told the BBC: "It's been very disruptive. We haven't had any help, we've been over to Eurostar in the station, and they've not been very helpful, they haven't given us any help on alternative ways home or anything."

Eurostar has not said when services will be back up and running, with a message on its website simply saying: "We are committed to restoring our services as soon as possible but our key priority is the safety and comfort of our customers."

Eurostar chief executive Richard Brown asked people not to travel unless it was essential.

He said: "When we resume service it's going to be very busy, we're not going to be able to carry everyone who's booked yesterday, today and during this week."

'Out of touch'

Passengers who have suffered delays will be offered a full refund, £150 compensation and a free return ticket.

The compensation would be offered until the backlog of passengers was cleared and the service was back to normal - which Mr Brown did not expect to happen before Christmas.

I'm not saying it went well, I'm saying it went rather better than actually a lot of people say
Richard Brown
Eurostar chief executive

Nirj Deva, Conservative MEP for the South East of England, said he wanted the Eurostar chief executive to step down.

The company had not been adequately prepared for the situation, and Mr Brown should therefore "do the decent thing" and resign, he said.

Mr Brown told BBC Breakfast he was "very, very sorry" for the inconvenience and described events as "unprecedented".

He admitted it had taken a "very long time" to evacuate people from the trains.

"Clearly, if you're on a train stranded in a tunnel, it is a distressing experience," he said.

He conceded it took too long to get trains out to people and said while trains had spare water, it ran out.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the disruption was a "catastrophe" for people trapped trying to get home for Christmas.

She said: "After a reprieve from BA strikes, it is a huge concern to see travellers hit so hard by this crisis."

On Sunday, all ferry services from Dover to Dunkirk, Boulogne and Calais were running, and traffic queues had eased.

The Port of Dover said traffic was running freely on the A2 and A20 into Dover, and freight traffic stuck on the M20 was being called forward in batches to be shipped across the Channel.

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