Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010

Passengers rescued after Eurostar breaks down in Kent


Eurostar passenger: "It was quite frightening when the lights went out"

More than 700 passengers had to be rescued from a Eurostar train in Kent after it experienced what the company said was a "major technical problem".

The Paris to London train ground to a halt with its lights off just south of Ashford at about 2245 GMT on Sunday.

Passengers, some of them with children, had to wait for a replacement train that arrived more than an hour later.

In December, several trains broke down when snow caused them to lose power, disrupting the service for three days.

Crash disruption

A total of 2,500 passengers were stuck in the Channel Tunnel for up to five-and-a-half hours while a further 100,000 were stranded over the weekend before Christmas because of the delays.

The firm was subsequently strongly criticised by an independent review which said its contingency plans for helping stranded passengers were "insufficient".

It also raised concerns over the poor conditions for passengers stuck on the trains in the tunnel.

Services between the UK and Brussels have been disrupted since 15 February following a collision between two Belgian passenger trains. They are not expected to fully resume until 2 March.

The train involved in Sunday night's incident had originally been due to leave Gare du Nord at 2043 CET and arrive at St Pancras at 2159 GMT but was delayed by about an hour after an unattended bag caused a security alert.

The rescue train arrived at London's St Pancras station at 0235 GMT on Monday.

Passengers were given food and drink in the capital. About 100 people left the train at Ashford.

Eurostar has apologised for the incident and said a full investigation into the cause was under way.

However, it would not confirm passengers' claim that lights in the carriages had failed or reports that the power car had become detached from the rest of the train.

Delayed passengers arrive at St Pancras
Passengers said they were plunged into darkness when the lights failed

There were also reports that the air conditioning and toilets had failed.

A spokeswoman said it did not know what had caused the train to stop.

She said: "We are investigating what happened fully. We ensured a rescue train was there incredibly quickly.

"We have put everything in position so that people who need to get taxis or people who need hotels are taken care of.

"Our priority is to make sure our passengers are looked after."

Eurostar has offered passengers compensation, saying those delayed by 300 minutes or more would be offered a free return journey in the same class of travel as well as a cash refund for the delayed part of the journey.

'Painfully slow'

Eurostar said it did not expect any disruption to later services and passengers should check in as normal.

A later Paris-to-London service successfully bypassed the stranded train, the spokeswoman said.

Richard Startari, who was on the train, said: "Just 10 minutes from Ashford, the Eurostar kind of stopped, at which point we then lost all power."

He said staff had provided water but did not appear to have torches.

Passenger Richard Kenny said travellers had to sit in the dark for about two hours.

He said staff had kept passengers informed and the rescue operation appeared to be "well organised".

But Andres Falconer said the evacuation operation to the rescue train had been "painfully slow".

He added: "Eurostar is understaffed, under resourced and unprepared to handle such incidents."

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