Eurostar Paris-London train disruption strands passengers

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Eurostar said its London to Paris train service did not run for several hours after an alert shut a tunnel in Britain, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded in the latest disruption to hit the operator.

The alarm was raised late Thursday after smoke was spotted in a tunnel under the River Thames, in London, which forms part of the route linking the two European capitals, said a Eurostar spokesman.

Rail operator Network Rail took the decision to close the tunnel and several hours later investigators gave the all-clear, said the Eurostar spokesman.

But the shutdown cancelled some services and delayed others already en route, and by the time the tunnel was reopened it was too late for any more services to depart from London to Paris that night.

This left around 1,000 passengers stranded at St. Pancras station in London, according to an AFP journalist waiting to get a train to Paris.

"Some of the passengers are quite upset, it is not the first time, it has happened several times," said Julien Girault.

"We've felt there's no improvement in the way Eurostar has managed to give us information. It's complete improvisation."

The 26-year-old journalist said he and some other passengers would spend the night at the station before getting trains back to Paris. Services were due to resume early Friday, according to Eurostar.

The shutdown is just the latest problem to hit the cross-Channel train operator, after hundreds of passengers were left stranded in the Channel Tunnel in December when trains broke down in freezing weather.

Explaining Thursday's shutdown, the Eurostar spokesman told AFP: "There were reports earlier this evening of smoke within the tunnel.

"Purely for safety reasons, (rail operator) Network Rail made the decision to suspend services on that line."

"Once the fire brigade had investigated, they were able to reopen (the tunnel)," he added.

He stressed the reports of smoke related only to the tunnel in Britain, and not to the Channel Tunnel itself.

The spokesman said staff were on hand to help stranded passengers and added: "It is hugely regrettable for our customers that they have been inconvenienced."

He said the shutdown started at about 6:30 pm (1730 GMT), and the problem was resolved by about 9:00 pm (2000 GMT).

But by this time it was too late for any trains to leave London for Paris, he added.

In December, Eurostar came in for fierce criticism after five trains carrying more than 2,000 passengers broke down in the Channel Tunnel in the busy pre-Christmas period in freezing weather.

An independent probe into the incident in February condemned the operator for failing to prepare sufficiently for the winter conditions.

© 2010 AFP

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