Page last updated at 03:03 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Trapped passengers 'put at risk' in Channel Tunnel

Passengers' lives were put at risk when five Eurostar trains were stranded in the Channel Tunnel, the BBC has been told.

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

A Eurotunnel official said passengers were endangered when they were allowed off the train in the tunnel.

And an off-duty ambulance worker, who was attending to other passengers on trapped trains, told the BBC he feared that some passengers could have died on the train.

Eurostar said it had apologised to passengers and would not comment further until an inquiry was complete.

Thousands of passengers were trapped on 18-19 December when a number of trains broke down due to heavy snow in northern France.

Many passengers were eventually led from the trains in the tunnel carrying their luggage.

'Risky exit'

But John Keefe of tunnel operators Eurotunnel told BBC Radio 4's The Report that this had "put passengers' lives at risk."

"Before the emergency services arrived passengers stepped off the train into the tunnel.

BBC Radio 4, Thursday 28 January at 2000 GMT
Or download the podcast.

"In reality that was an incredibly dangerous thing to do," he added.

Mr Keefe also said, "This caused a great deal of problems for the emergency services when they arrived."

He stated that rescue workers did not know how many people were in the tunnel, were left in the train, or had returned to the train.

"The decision to open the door put passengers lives at risk."

Off duty ambulance worker Gavin Hewson, who was a passenger in one of the stranded trains, said he feared for the safety of elderly people and those with heart conditions left in the carriages, which were heating up due to an air conditioning failure.

Fatalities risk

Mr Hewson, who spent most of the time attending to fellow passengers, told The Report, "There undoubtedly could have been fatalities.

"You had elderly people and people with heart conditions who could have had heart attacks and some could have died," he added.

A statement from Eurostar said the company had apologised for the disruption of services on 18-19 December and the subsquent suspension of trains until 26 December.

It added: "We know we let our customers down and we are deeply sorry for the distress and the delays they suffered. We fully accept that five Eurostar train failures in the Channel Tunnel could have been handled much better and we have already implemented a series of measures to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

"The five failures were all the result of the extreme cold and snowy conditions in northern France, the like of which we have never experienced in 15 years of operation. "

Eurostar said it would not comment further until the results of an independent inquiry into the incident.

The Eurostar Independent Review is due to publish its findings in the second week of February.

A statement by its joint chairmen Christopher Garnett and Claude Gressier said, "We are well advanced with our report but want to take advantage of the joint Review of the UK and French Authorities which is taking place at the end of January.

"We expect therefore to publish our findings in the week commencing 8 February 2010. An exact date for publication will be announced in due course."

The Report is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 28 January at 2000 GMT. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast.

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