French train passengers arrive 24 hours late
Dozens of exhausted train passengers arrived in southern France more than 24 hours late after suffering an epic string of delays.
Their overnight train left Strasbourg in the northeast at 9:30 pm (2030 GMT) Sunday, bound for Nice on the south coast and Portbou in Spain, but struck "an exceptional succession of incidents," said state rail company SNCF.
"We are very relieved to have arrived," said one passenger, Solange, arriving in southwestern Perpignan on Monday night with her partner Vincent and their two children aged four and one. "We feel like we've been shipwrecked."
The train was due to split in two and take some passengers to Nice and others to Portbou by 8:30 am Monday. But it was stuck for hours overnight south of Strasbourg waiting until 6:00 am for a replacement driver, the SNCF said.
As most passengers dozed in their seats and heated sleeper cars, several were hauled off by police for drunkenly disturbing their fellow travellers.
Further down the line, the train was stuck for a further three hours for repairs after one of its motors broke down, passengers told AFP.
It stood in a station "without heating or light" with some passengers "on the verge of a nervous breakdown," one passenger, who gave his name as Benjamin, told AFP.
The train inched on by 6:00 pm to the city of Lyon, less than half way along its route. There some passengers were transferred onto a chartered high-speed service direct to Portbou, while others sat tight to reach Nice.
A few dozen weary travellers finally got off in Perpignan at 10:00 pm Monday. A handful travelled on to Portbou by bus, the SNCF said.
"It's clearly a delay that seems astonishing," said Transport and Ecology Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet on RTL radio.
© 2010 AFP