Passenger misery as Channel tunnel remains closed

Travellers between Britain and France faced another day of misery Friday as the Channel tunnel remained closed after a fierce fire, with many still struggling to make alternative arrangements.

At London’s St Pancras station many passengers arrived hoping to take the Eurostar to Paris despite Thursday’s fire, complaining of mixed messages from tunnel operators.

“We checked the website last night around 9pm. It just said delays are expected, but it didn’t say anything about cancelled services,” said Kirsty McIntyre (28) struggling to get to France for a weekend with friends.

“So we came today and it’s not happening. We’re trying to figure out our options.
We’re going to see if we can get a bus to Dover and a ferry to Calais. It was a bit confusing—you get one message from the website last night and another message here,” added the finance manager.

The fire erupted on Thursday afternoon on a freight train about five kilometres from the French end of the tunnel, forcing the evacuation of about 30 people, mostly truckers.

While the blaze was rapidly brought under control, British and French firefighters battled all night to finally extinguish it.

Many passengers were forced to spend an extra night in London or Paris Thursday as flights between the two cities quickly became fully booked, while ferries were also in heavy demand.

On Friday morning the scene at St Pancras was still one of confusion.

“I heard the announcement in the Tube this morning that there was no service. When I heard it I didn’t believe it,” said Lithuanian Katia Nazmutdinova (25) who was planning to travel to Paris for a trade show.

“They don’t know if the service will be available tomorrow but the thing is, even if I come tomorrow I don’t think I’m going to be able to use their train because I think all the tickets will be sold out.”

John Piears, a retired policeman, was philosophical.

“You can jump up and down and scream and shout but it’s an accident, it couldn’t be helped,” said the 65-year-old, hoping to take his wife Judith on a rail tour of Germany and Austria to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

“The irony is we live about 16 miles [about 25km] from Dover so we could have saved all that money and taken the ferry in the first place,” he said.

“But we’re on holiday and it’s all part of the fun. We’re going to have a coffee now and people watch while the tour company works out what to do.”

On Friday morning there was still some confusion over how long it would take before Eurostar trains would resume travelling through the tunnel.

Eurotunnel chairperson Jacques Gounon told French radio that some traffic could resume during the day, but minutes later French rail operator SNCF said Eurostar services would remain suspended Friday. - AFP