Eurostar train emerging from the English mouth of the Channel Tunnel

Eurostar breakdown leaves 700 passengers stranded for seven hours

Eurostar train emerging from the English mouth of the Channel Tunnel GetLink

On the coldest day of the year, so far, you would not want to be stuck without power, in the countryside on a broken-down train. That happened on Thursday to around 700 passengers of the Eurostar however, on its way from London to Amsterdam.

30 November may have been Saint Andrew’s Day, but Eurostar was certainly being called the sinner. Around 700 passengers aboard a Eurostar train experienced an uncomfortable ordeal lasting over seven hours after a London to Amsterdam train broke down near the English entrance to the Channel Tunnel. The 0816 (London time) service from St Pancras International came to a standstill due to an overhead electric cable falling on the train, resulting in a loss of power, lack of access to food…and no working toilets.

Felt like an emergency situation

Just when everyone was getting used to expecting no Eurostar in Amsterdam for six months from next June, it turned out there was no Eurostar in Amsterdam by the end of November. Not quite the planned summer suspension of the service – while Amsterdam Centraal undergoes modernisation – this was nonetheless an unexpected curtailment. Many passengers took to social media and mainstream sources to voice their distress. The BBC and the London Evening Standard, among other sources, reported their plight. Jessica Chambers, who had travelled from Essex to join the train in London, said it felt like an emergency situation. However, she felt a lack of communication left her in the dark, even before it actually got dark on the powerless train.

Eurostar train on tracks near Rotterdam
A Eurostar train approaching Rotterdam. Obviously not the 0816 from London

As the short winter day wore on, without any rescue for the stricken train, passengers reported deteriorating conditions as the train grew dark due to the power outage, leaving them without information or assistance from the crew. Eurostar acknowledged the incident. The cross-Channel high-speed operators explained that the complex situation required adherence to safety procedures before attempting to move the train. The lack of power on board made customer announcements impossible, further exacerbating the passengers’ distress. Some passengers were puzzled as to why the train staff could not employ some radical communication technology – like walking the train and reporting the situation in person.

Met in London with enhanced compensation

Rebecca Morris, another passenger reported in the British media, described the situation as dreadful. She was not alone in being upset by the freezing conditions and the lack of basic amenities. The high-tech Eurostar trains do of course rely on an electricity supply for virtually everything to operate – from lighting and doors to those most basic of amenities: a toilet flush.

An empty Eurostar carriage
Where is everybody? Probably queueing for the toilet if they were on yesterday’s abortive London – Amsterdam train. Image source: EurostarJo/Twitter

Eurostar spokespersons expressed regret for the inconvenience caused by a lack of any convenience. They assured the public that the affected passengers would be duly compensated. Meanwhile, disruptions rippled through the Eurostar network, causing delays and cancellations, and impacting travellers across various routes. Eurostar assured that all affected passengers would be met in London with refreshments and receive enhanced compensation.

Eurostar facing viable challenges

This breakdown has triggered memories of past incidents, including the 2014 Le Shuttle train breakdown in the Channel Tunnel. In that incident, 400 passengers were evacuated inside the Tunnel, leading to numerous cancellations, including Eurostar services. It is worth noting that the rigorous safety precautions employed in Tunnel operations worked flawlessly then and now. Despite Eurostar’s generally reliable service, such high-profile incidents garner significant attention, due to the media profile attracted by the glamour of international rail services.

It’s probably not the sort of publicity Eurostar was seeking. The operator has already come in for criticism for indefinitely abandoning stops in Kent (at Ebbsfleet and Ashford). The incumbent passenger train operator is also facing a viable challenge to its monopoly position. Dutch and Spanish operators, and even Richard Branson, have revealed plans to introduce competing services and to expand the international network serving London. Meanwhile, the stranded Amsterdam-bound service made its way back to London, having never left England.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

5 comments op “Eurostar breakdown leaves 700 passengers stranded for seven hours”

Roland Bol|01.12.23|15:10

“The cross-Channel high-speed operators explained that the complex situation required adherence to safety procedures”
It would seem that the risk analysis has failed to analyse the risks associated with people being locked up in a train for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 hours. Now it was getting cold, in the summer it would be hot. Do the analysis, determine a deadline for evacuating a powerless train, and adapt safety procedures so that they meet the deadline. Accept the cost, like an engineer on duty.

martin Doherty|02.12.23|13:23

Demonstrates the usual cynical lack of concern for the passenger-there needs to be a radical re-think

Johannes Neumayer|04.12.23|19:17

Safety procedures are always an easy excuse for any incompetence. Evacuating a train outside of a tunnel is not easy but still very feasible.
If Eurostar is not willing « for safety reasons » to do that , then they need to have diesel rescue locos ready.I remember Sncf used to have them , maybe somebody knows wether they still have them?

Johannes Neumayer|04.12.23|19:23

Safety procedures are a well known excuse for incompetence. Evacuating a train is not easy but still feasible. If Eurostar is not willing to do so «  for safety reasons » they need to accept having diesel locos ready for rescue. I remember Sncf had some on PSE, but wonder if they still have them.

bönström bönström|07.12.23|01:16

Robustness, redundancy, surplus capacity, thus safety factors, as otherwise, by some reason, uniqely, is not present, in any respect, at railways!
Accordingly – and suboptimal – “optimal maintenance”, now has turned big business at railways…
(A mono structure type electrification, optimal 100 years ago, when steam was shifted out, no longer meets with current market’s “On Time” demand, etc.)
Now a robust, a New Old Railway is needed – and has to be provided for!

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