Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010

Eurostar investigates after train breaks down in Kent

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

Investigations are continuing into the latest Eurostar breakdown which left more than 740 passengers waiting to be rescued from a train in Kent.

The company said a "major technical problem" had caused the Paris to London service to stop with its lights off just south of Ashford on Sunday night.

Passengers had to wait more than an hour for a replacement train to arrive.

Eurostar said the problem was not connected to the incident in December when several trains broke down.

Then, 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 after heavy snow in northern France caused the trains to lose power.

Clamber down ladders

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.

It ground to a halt in Kent at about 2245 GMT, but the train brought in to replace it did not arrive at London's St Pancras station until 0235 GMT on Monday.

Passengers carrying luggage had to clamber down ladders on to the tracks and then back up on to the rescue train that arrived alongside.

Many reported stifling temperatures on board the stranded train, with toilets not working and staff struggling to find emergency lighting.

Eurostar has apologised for the incident and offered passengers compensation.

It said passengers 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.

Spokesman Bram Smets said the broken-down train had been taken out of service and the company was doing everything it could to find the exact cause of the problem.

He said trains in both directions between London and Paris had experienced delays of up to an hour on Monday morning.

'Painfully slow'

Services between London and Brussels are also facing disruption following last Monday's collision between two Belgian passenger trains. They are not expected to fully resume until 2 March.

Passengers on board Sunday night's train said they had to sit in the dark, and although Eurostar staff provided water, they did not appear to have torches and were using the light from their mobile phones.

Andres Falconer said the evacuation operation to the rescue train was "painfully slow".

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

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said the incident had once again highlighted "the importance of having adequate numbers of trained staff available to deal with emergency situations on the rail network".

"The Eurostar breakdown has also turned the spotlight on the safety-critical role played by guards on our trains and has added yet more weight to RMT's campaign to defend the position of this essential group of staff."



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SEE ALSO
Eurostar breakdown sparks rescue
22 Feb 10 |  Kent
Belgian passenger trains collide
15 Feb 10 |  Europe
Eurostar snow delays criticised
12 Feb 10 |  Business
Eurostar to pay 10m compensation
18 Jan 10 |  Kent

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