Eurostar trains resume, snow slows Europe travel

LONDON Tue Dec 22, 2009 1:02pm EST

1 of 2. Passengers wait to try to board Eurostar services at St Pancras station in London December 22, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - Cross-Channel Eurostar trains resumed running between London and continental Europe on Tuesday, starting to move thousands of passengers left stranded by train breakdowns just before Christmas.

However, severe winter weather caused chaos at airports across Europe with flights delayed or canceled in Italy and Germany. Snow and ice caused problems on railways and roads. Forecasters predicted more snow and ice in the next 24 hours.

Eurostar trains had been halted since the weekend when 2,500 people were trapped for up to 16 hours in the undersea Channel Tunnel with no power, air conditioning, food or water -- bringing a storm of anger down on the company.

A limited service resumed on Tuesday when a Eurostar train left London's St Pancras International station at 7:41 a.m. (0741 GMT) heading for Paris. An earlier train had set off in the other direction from Gare du Nord station in Paris with about 1,000 passengers still queuing for later trains.

Some among about 500 people queuing at St Pancras on Tuesday morning shouted at Eurostar staff, complaining about a lack of information.

Eurostar, owned by the French and Belgian state railway firms and by the British government, has given priority to passengers with tickets from previous days and said it was clearing the backlog quicker than expected.

Eurostar Chief Executive Richard Brown said that services would not be back to normal until after Christmas, adding that a lot of passengers had found alternative ways of crossing the Channel despite the bad weather.

He said passengers with tickets for Wednesday and Thursday could come to stations although there was no guarantee they would be able to get on to trains.

Budget airline Easyjet said it had chartered a larger airplane to boost capacity on flights between London, north of London, and Paris.

HOLIDAY DISRUPTION

The Christmas season is one of the busiest of the year and snow and ice disrupted air, train and road travel across Europe.

Britain's airports were recovering from a backlog but travelers were warned there could be delays and cancellations.

Roads were also severely hit with Britain's AA breakdown service reporting a record 16,000 breakdowns on Monday.

Italian national carrier Alitalia restarted flights from Milan's Linate airport and the city's larger Malpensa airport by early afternoon after disruptions.

Berlin's Tegel Airport in Germany was closed for an hour, and more than 200 flights were canceled at Frankfurt.

About 400 stranded passengers spent the night at Amsterdam's Schiphol on improvised beds.

In France, 12 people have died this month in the severe cold, a homeless group said.

HIGH-SPEED INQUIRY

Eurostar, its reputation tarnished by the chaos, has said the trains suffered electrical failure caused by condensation when moving from cold air in northern France into the warmer tunnel.

An independent review of the breakdown will aim to report by the end of next month, its British co-director said on Tuesday.

Christopher Garnett, who has served as chief executive of a British railway company and commercial director of Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel, will jointly lead the review with Frenchman Claude Gressier.

"We plan to try to get our report out by the end of January -- we need to move quickly," Garnett told a news conference.

He invited passengers to e-mail his team at independent.review@eurostar.com.

(Additional reporting by European bureaus; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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