Eurostar Independent Review

During the night from 18th to 19th December 2009, five Eurostar trains failed in the Channel Tunnel and passengers encountered serious problems in completing their journey to London. One of these trains was from Disneyland Paris and was carrying 664 passengers.
Today an independent review into what happened has been published.

Following the overnight disruption to services on the 18th/19th December, and in the context of ongoing poor weather conditions, Eurostar services were then suspended over the next three days. Eurostar was due to carry around 90,000 passengers.

Below is what the report has to say about The  Disneyland Paris service (train 9057) that departed Marne-La-Vallée and was returning to London. What is very clear from the report is that conditions on the Eurostar Disney Train deteriorated very quickly. With the rapid build-up of heat after loss of air conditioning, many passengers on the train perceived themselves to be in an emergency situation.

As a frequest Eurostar passanger myself the report does not make pleasant reading.

The train departed Marne-La-Vallée (the stop for Disneyland Paris), carrying 664 passengers, on time at 19.37hrs and subsequently called at Lille, departing there at 20.50hrs. Many English families with small children were on board and the train crew was French.

At 21.40hrs the train was held in the Coquelles area due to the failure of 9157 in the Tunnel. At 22.08hrs 9057 entered the Tunnel. During this initial passage through the Tunnel loud noises were heard by the Train Manager and passengers and the loss of two motor blocs was reported by the driver.

At 22.40hrs the train stopped in the Tunnel, behind 9053 which was experiencing traction problems. The Train Manager noted that an announcement was made to reassure passengers and water was offered.

At this point, 9057 was at a standstill in the Tunnel, behind 9053 which had failed. An HGV shuttle was to the rear of 9057 and the position of these trains had to be rearranged before it could move. During this period further faults developed within 9057. This led to the isolation of further equipment. A battery reset was required and this was conducted at 00.18hrs.

At 23.48hrs the driver was notified that due to the failure of 9053 ahead, 9057 train would return to Coquelles. This move commenced at 00.41hrs, however the driver subsequently reported “explosion type noises” and loss of further motor blocs. The train came to a stand and failed, in interval 6 at 01.00hrs. At that time the train’s pantograph came down. Because the driver had not operated the CS Rad procedure correctly the train did not retain ‘vital services’.

9057 lost not only its air conditioning but also ventilation and lighting. In interviews with passengers it was apparent that the temperature inside the train rose quickly (see recommendation 14.1). Parents had to remove their children’s clothes leaving them in underwear and nappies. The train

was also in darkness. It was reported that some passengers suffered stress and panic attacks and that others started to feel unwell due to the heat.

The Train Manager made announcements to passengers but these were treated with a degree of distrust and many English-speaking passengers said that they could not understand the strong French accent. It was also claimed by passengers in their feedback to the Review that the crew were generally unhelpful and appeared intimidated by passengers. They ignored passengers, refused to answer questions and appeared to go into hiding.

An off-duty Essex policeman had identified himself to the Train Manager and offered help, but this was declined. At this point a paramedic from the Hertfordshire ambulance service had started administering first aid to passengers. A short time later the Train Manager requested urgent assistance from emergency services personnel aboard the train. The Essex policeman volunteered as well as two off-duty members of the British Transport police. 

The Train Manager 2 was with the driver in the cab and Train Manager 1 was working on his own with nobody from whom to seek advice. It was reported that he did not cope well and struggled with English so there were communication issues (see recommendation 12). Passengers have no recollection of seeing him walk through the train and he did not brief the catering crew to help. The off-duty Essex policeman stepped in and, according to passenger reports, took control of the situation.

As conditions in the train deteriorated, with temperatures increasing and a lack of air conditioning, a sense of urgency developed among passengers who wanted the doors to be opened. Many of these had small children who were distressed. No food or drink was offered to passengers. Throughout this time the Hertfordshire paramedic was providing medical assistance.

At 01.26hrs the driver reported to the RCC that there were major problems, on board – there was a lack of air and passengers were becoming angry. He was not able to use the radio from his own cab and had to use the telephone in the Tunnel.

A request was made by the train crew to the RCC to allow the the doors to be opened, but before authority for this was given, passengers started to open the doors themselves at 01.36hrs (see recommendation 6). The offduty police began to offer advice and assistance in opening the doors when they saw the difficulties passengers were having. It was reported that it was difficult to read the emergency instructions (see recommendations 13.3 & 13.4). Once the doors were opened and air started to circulate, the temperature improved in some areas (see recommendation 14.2).

Some passengers chose to get off the train, a number to smoke in the Tunnel (see recommendation 15.3), although most stayed onboard.  Meanwhile, an evacuation train (Eurotunnel vehicle shuttle 6667) had left Coquelles at 01.31hrs and arrived in the south tunnel at 01.49hrs. Although a few passengers had already disembarked the train, the official evacuation did not begin until 01.56hrs. Passengers report that no Eurostar staff were visible and that there was a lack of instruction.

Passengers interviewed by the Review team conveyed different experiences on this train with some passengers saying they received help from the FLOR while others received no assistance. As on train 9053, passengers were permitted to take their baggage with them.

Because of the positioning of the train in relation to the two cross tunnels, passengers in the front coaches (nearest the UK end of the Tunnel) were directed towards the cross tunnel at the UK end of the Tunnel. Passengers walked through this passage and onto the single deck of the shuttle. Passengers in rear coaches were directed to walk through the cross tunnel at the French end and to board the bottom level of the double deck of the shuttle.

Conditions for passengers on this shuttle were poor. It was cold and passengers reported that it was dirty. All passengers, including pregnant women and small children had to sit on greasy floors or to lean against the sides of the carriage. The FLOR found it difficult to identify the Train Manager from 9057 on 6667 (see recommendations 7.7 & 7.8).

The shuttle then departed at 03.52hrs, arriving at 04.16hrs on platform F4 at the Coquelles Terminal. Whilst on route to Coquelles, three medically trained rescue staff walked through the train, checking if anyone required medical assistance.

On arrival at Coquelles, passengers were asked if they wished to leave the train, rather than wait and be transported onto London. Eleven passengers left the train at this point and were transferred to Calais Frethun to await a passenger train.

After a period of time Eurotunnel provided water and around 800 pastries to Eurostar passengers on the shuttle (this was in addition to the arrangements it was making to cater for around 1,000 of its own customers in Folkestone and around 600 in Calais). Some of this food was distributed by Eurotunnel staff throughout the carriages; however, most passengers were required to proceed along the train to collect this.

Because many passengers were unfamiliar with the layout of the shuttle and hence unsure as to whether they were in the single or double deck, there was some confusion about where refreshments were being distributed (see recommendations 7.5 & 7.6).

Eurotunnel staff were available on the train to provide information, however this appeared to have been provided largely in response to passenger questions rather than through proactive announcements. Passengers were required to remain on the shuttle for a period of time prior to being allowed off in small numbers to the platform area to smoke.

At this point Eurostar thought passengers were being looked after at the terminal indicating that there were issues with the communication. During this period, the toilet facilities quickly became unpleasant. There were only 10 toilets – six in the single shuttle and four on the lower deck of the double deck shuttle.

Although Eurotunnel provided some additional toilet paper, they did not clean or empty the toilets, which were overflowing (see recommendation 16.4). This led to passengers designating one carriage as an open toilet area.

Passengers have no recollection of any senior member of Eurostar or Eurotunnel staff, or other authorities, other than the three medically trained FLOR staff, walking though the shuttle to see how the 650+ passengers were, or to provide explanation or instructions (see recommendation 16.1).

At 05.44hrs, the shuttle left Coquelles for the Folkestone Terminal, arriving there at 06.20hrs. Upon arrival passengers remained on the Eurotunnel vehicle shuttle for some time awaiting the arrival of a Eurostar train (9096) at 08.13hrs (see recommendation 16.2). At this point there appear to have been no announcements by authorities and passengers had no idea what was happening. Passengers’ feedback to the Review states that they felt they were being held ‘captive’ on the train and that tempers became frayed.

The transfer of passengers to 9096 began at 08.15hrs and was then conducted via a limited number of doors. Because platforms in the Eurotunnel terminal have been constructed for use by vehicle shuttles, there was a large stepping distance between the platform and Eurostar trains, which do not normally use these platforms. To facilitate evacuation, the authorities had put in place ramps. Again passengers have no recollection of anyone in authority walking through the train to see the conditions of the passengers or explain what was happening. This transfer was completed by 09.15hrs. Women and children were evacuated first from the shuttle and were left to wait for a time outside on a platform in freezing temperatures before boarding the Eurostar train (see recommendation 16.3).

This relieving Eurostar service 9096 was loaded with the 664 passengers from 9057, together with approximately 270 people from 9059, and departed Folkestone Terminal at 10.30hrs. The Train Manager from 9057 took charge of this train and the staff from 9059 were on board, although it is reported that they locked themselves away because they were afraid of passenger unrest.

There was a subsequent delay to this train of a further 30 minutes, which finally departed the Eurotunnel / Network Rail (CTRL) boundary at 10.55hrs, arriving in St Pancras at 11.53hrs (10.53hrs GMT).

Eurostar has said it is working with Eurotunnel to undertake a comprehensive review of all the procedures for rescue and evacuation from the Tunnel and as part of this they will be jointly purchasing two further rescue locomotives, to improve the rescue process. They will also be investing £12 million in a state-of-the art communications system which will significantly improve communications within the Tunne
In addition to the above measures Eurostar are going to be making the following further improvements to their customer care and communication processes including:

  • Operating 24/7 call centre during periods of disruption
  • Regular SMS text messaging and email updates for customers
  • A more robust contingency plan to draft in extra staff during disruption
  • Appointing a new Director of Business Service Continuity to take charge of the implementation of all these changes so they are carried out speedily and effectively

Finaly Eurostar stated that it is fully committed to ensuring that the disruption their travellers experienced before Christmas never happens again and that they wish to win back passanger confidence and trust in their service.

Author: Salon Mickey Blog

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