Channel Tunnel traffic running at one third volume

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The Eurostar is back on the rails, but only at a third of its usual volume after the blazing fire on Thursday.

15 September 2008

LILLE -- The Channel Tunnel traffic is running at just over a third of its usual volume after a fire closed the undersea rail link between Britain and continental Europe, operators Eurotunnel said Sunday.

However, schedules for freight and Eurostar train lines, which would be given priority according to the operator, looked to be less disrupted.

"We are at 60 percent of what we normally do, this should be the same for Monday," said a Eurostar spokesperson.

A total of between 120 and 140 trains carrying Eurostar passengers, vehicles or freight trucks, will make their way through the tunnel daily as of Monday, compared to the normal daily average of between 300 and 400, a Eurotunnel spokesman said.

Up to 116 services were due to make the crossing in either direction Sunday, using the south tunnel that runs from France to England.

The north tunnel, which runs in the opposite direction, remains closed and will require weeks of repairs after British and French firefighters Friday put out the 1,000 degrees Celsius inferno, after battling all Thursday night in relay teams.

Freight services resumed Saturday through the tunnel and Eurostar passenger trains also making a slow comeback, with complaints on the first train Saturday about unpleasant fumes from the extinguished blaze.

Eurostar's finance director, Ian Nunn, told AFP Sunday that an oversight in ventilating the first passenger train made some crew "feel sick".

One staff member arriving Saturday morning in London was examined in hospital for discomfort, Nunn said, but there had been no passenger complaints.

Travellers were not at risk because the company had since solved the problem, he added.
"It was too bad but it was not repeated," he said of the experience.

A limited number of cars were able to make the crossing Sunday morning and Eurostar planned 30 trains for the day - 10 in each direction between London and Paris, and five each way between Brussels and London.

As of Monday, the company hopes to circulate 24 trains total on the Paris-London-Paris route and 12 on the Brussels-London-Paris one. Journeys from Paris to London will take 30 minutes longer than the usual two hours and 15 minutes.

"The trains are extremely full. Demand is very high and the check-in times are much longer," a Eurostar spokesperson said.

Six to eight goods trains per day are also planned.

The first passenger train left Folkestone, on the English coast, at 0618 GMT.

Tourist services were reserved for clients who had already booked reservations before Thursday's accident, Eurotunnel said.

The exact cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

Officials said they suspected the fire started in a truck's braking system that overheated and spread to a tyre.

Ferry companies operating the route between Calais, northern France and Dover, south-east England, have since reported a surge in passengers.

One company, SeaFrance, said it ferried 3,000 passengers Friday, a 300 percent increase from normal - although the figure was expected to drop Sunday to between 600 - 1,200 passengers, a spokeswoman said.

Another operator P&O also reported a boost in passengers, without specifying numbers.

Eurostar is offering to refund the estimated 15,000 people stranded Thursday and the 30,000 Friday after the fire or to swap tickets for a later date. The company said that is not yet in position to estimate financial losses caused by the fire on Sunday.

"We can't evaluate it yet as the offer of a refund or ticket exchange is valid for 60 days after the date of the journey," the Eurostar spokesperson said.

[AFP / Expatica]

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