Eurostar resumes after tunnel smoke alert

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Eurostar on Friday worked through a backlog of holiday passengers after its London to Paris train service was halted for several hours by a tunnel alert.

An alert caused by smoke in a tunnel under the River Thames in London left hundreds of passengers stranded in the latest disruption to hit the operator.

Traffic on the line was "very smooth" following the reopening of the track, a spokeswoman for Eurostar said.

"The first Paris to London train at 6:43 am (0433 GMT) departed without a hitch as did the 7:13 am train," she said.

The shutdown occurred late Thursday after smoke was spotted in the tunnel, which forms part of the route linking the two European capitals.

Rail operator Network Rail took the decision to close the tunnel at 1730 GMT and investigators gave the all-clear at 2000 GMT. But Eurostar decided it was too late to resume services at that time.

The cause of the smoke is not known.

Eurostar said 1,500 passengers were affected as trains already en route during the shutdown were disrupted and the departure of three trains was cancelled.

"Some of the passengers are quite upset, it is not the first time, it has happened several times," said AFP journalist Julien Girault, who was waiting to catch a train at St Pancras on Thursday.

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

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.

Explaining the shutdown, a Eurostar spokesman told AFP Thursday: "Purely for safety reasons, 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.

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."

Eurostar offered passengers on affected trains a refund and a free return journey, the company said on its website.

© 2010 AFP

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