Sarkozy orders Eurostar to end Paris-London rail chaos

22nd December 2009, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered Eurostar to get its trains back on track by Tuesday as anger mounted over a weekend of chaos on the high-speed service between Paris and London.

PARIS - The rail company said services could partially resume on Tuesday morning if test runs on trains "go well", but that schedules would not get back to normal before Christmas on Friday at the earliest.

Around 40,000 travellers have been left stranded by the cancellation of services on one of the busiest weeks of the year in the run-up to the Christmas break, Eurostar said.

The chaos began when five trains broke down on Friday night amid freezing temperatures, trapping two thousand passengers overnight in the tunnels that link the European continent with Britain.

Many passengers were outraged at their treatment while trapped on board the blocked trains, with some complaining they had been left for hours without food, drink or information on when and how their ordeal would end.

French government ministers on Monday expressed outrage over the breakdown, which Eurostar said was caused by trains unable to handle the sudden switch between freezing temperatures outside to warm temperatures in the tunnel.

As anger mounted, Sarkozy summoned the chairman of Eurostar to his Elysee offices for an explanation.

"The president asked that a resumption of traffic be effective by tomorrow, December 22," said a statement issued by his office after the meeting.

Sarkozy also told Guillaume Pepy, who is chairman of both Eurostar and the French SNCF rail network, that he wanted him to implement new measures to avoid a repeat of the "unacceptable" stoppage of the service.

Shortly after that statement, Eurostar's chief operating officer held a press conference to say passenger rail service between London and Paris and Brussels might begin to resume on Tuesday morning.

"We are confident," he said, noting that tests so far conducted had been satisfactory.

But he warned that normal service would not resume before Christmas, which is Friday.

The French government has ordered an investigation into why the Eurostar trains broke down in the Channel Tunnel.

"There have already been incidents in the Eurotunnel," Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said in Beijing, where he was accompanying Prime Minister Francois Fillon on an official visit to China.

"But to have traffic blocked for several days in a row, that is not acceptable," he said, noting that his ministry would launch a probe into "what happened, how it happened and how to avoid such events in the future."

Eurostar said it had launched its own review by independent experts into the breakdown of the high-speed trains.

The winter cold snap that shut down the Eurostar trains have caused dozens of deaths and major transport disruption across Europe.


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