Page last updated at 01:25 GMT, Saturday, 26 December 2009

Eurotunnel accuses Eurostar of ignoring safety rules

Eurostar passengers after moving to shuttle train
Passengers should not have been allowed to take their bags with them when rescued, Eurotunnel says

Eurotunnel has accused Eurostar of ignoring safety rules when evacuating passengers from trains last weekend.

The Channel Tunnel operator said evacuations were prolonged because people took bags with them "in complete violation" of safety procedures.

It also rejected claims it contributed to the chaos when 2,000 people were trapped in five broken down trains.

Eurostar said an independent review currently being carried out would "establish the truth once and for all".

In a statement, the company said passengers' safety "was not compromised at any time", but voiced concern that officials at Eurotunnel had "misunderstood" the nature of the review.

"In our view they should allow the panel of experts to get on with the review and let the facts speak for themselves," Eurostar said.

"The remit of the review is much wider than just the evacuation of passengers from the tunnel and looks at all of the circumstances both before and after the 18 and 19 December."

'Movement of worry'

In a bulletin issued to shareholders on Christmas Day, Eurotunnel said it had been "unfairly criticised for not having reacted correctly" after the breakdowns, which were caused by condensation entering the high-speed trains' electrical systems.

It also criticised Eurostar's communication with travellers on board the stricken trains.

We have been unjustly suspected in some quarters of not reacting in an appropriate way
Eurotunnel statement

Eurotunnel said: "Although in continued contact with our teams, it is clear the Eurostar teams obviously did not give the right information to passengers."

This had "led to a movement of worry", which was made worse by Eurostar staff who, "in total disregard of safety procedures, told the passengers to bring their luggage with them".

Eurotunnel also said it was "unacceptable" that several Eurostar staff from the evacuated trains had been "complaining that they needed to be relieved" from duty.

The BBC's Greg Wood said the statement represented an unprecedented attack by Eurotunnel on its most prominent customer.

Eurotunnel also criticised Kent Police, claiming officers had "conducted a series of incomprehensible and interminable checks and controls" during the crisis.

In response, a spokesman for the force said: "We will discuss any specific concerns if raised through the appropriate channels."

'Unjustly suspected'

Eurostar has admitted a communications failure, but last week also partly blamed Eurotunnel, which it said was responsible for evacuations and for relaying information to passengers in the tunnel.

But Eurotunnel said its staff had reacted quickly to help stranded passengers and had not failed to communicate with them.

Its statement said: "Although... our teams took actions in a rapid and professional manner going beyond their normal responsibilities, we have been unjustly suspected in some quarters of not reacting in an appropriate way."

Eurostar terminal at St Pancras
Eurostar was criticised for its response to the travel problems at the time

Some passengers spent hours trapped in the tunnel on the night of 18 December.

Eurostar cancelled all services for three days to establish what went wrong and carry out safety tests.

The company says it will run a normal service on 26 December, with 40 trains on the regular routes linking London with Paris and Brussels.

As well as providing tunnel services, Eurotunnel also runs its own cross-Channel shuttle services for cars and freight carriers.

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21 Dec 09 |  Europe

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