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Rail passengers spend a cold, dark night stranded in Chunnel

Four trains from Paris to London stalled in the tunnel under the English Channel when their electrical systems shut off.

December 20, 2009|By Janet Stobart
  • Passengers wait at London's St. Pancras station's Eurostar terminal amid lengthy delays. A Eurostar spokesman said four trains halted when a quick change in temperature on entering the Chunnel caused the electrical systems to shut down.
Passengers wait at London's St. Pancras station's Eurostar… (Carl Court / AFP/Getty Images )

Reporting from Tichborne, England — Passengers who had spent the night trapped in freezing temperatures in the English Channel tunnel emerged Saturday describing "a complete nightmare" in pitch-dark unheated trains without food or water.

Four trains on the Eurostar line joining London and Paris broke down after entering the tunnel on the French coast Friday night, and a journey that should have taken less than three hours turned into a cold 11- to 16-hour marathon for more than 2,000 people.

The first trickle of shivering passengers appeared Saturday morning at London's St. Pancras station and central London bus stations hungry, thirsty and angry.

Lee Godfrey, interviewed by a BBC reporter, described the ordeal as "a complete nightmare" suffered by passengers ranging from the elderly and ailing to children and pregnant women.

"We were without power. We ran out of water, we ran out of food, and there was very, very poor communication from staff," Godfrey said.

Others who spoke to the BBC said they had spent the night on the floor of their stranded carriages waiting in vain for assistance or even informational announcements by the crew.

Eurostar spokesmen said the breakdowns occurred when the trains, leaving freezing temperatures in France, hit the warmer, damp underwater atmosphere of the Channel tunnel, causing the electrical systems to seize up.

Temperatures continued to drop in Britain, and travel conditions worsened on British roads, especially the main highway from Dover, the English road terminal for the Channel tunnel, to London, where signs Saturday night warned motorists of delays of four hours or more.

A severe cold front has gripped the country for several days, causing the closure Saturday of several busy airports, including London Gatwick and Luton.

Stobart is a news assistant in The Times' London Bureau.

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