Passengers suffer on trains stuck in Channel Tunnel

LONDON (Reuters) - About 2,500 passengers were trapped overnight from Friday to Saturday in the undersea Channel Tunnel between France and Britain after trains broke down because of freezing weather, rail operator Eurostar said.

Angry travellers arriving in London on Saturday morning said they had been left with no power, air conditioning, food or water. Some complained their journeys from Brussels and Paris, which should take about 2 hours, had taken up to 15 hours.

Eurostar said four high-speed trains were stranded after moving from cold air outside into the warmer tunnel, causing condensation which affected electrical systems.

It cancelled all its trains until Monday. Tunnel operator Eurotunnel said other services were still running through the tunnel.

Temperatures at the French end of the tunnel at Calais dipped to minus two Celsius accompanied by snow. In the French capital Paris, temperatures were down to minus 4C.

“We’re very, very sorry that they’ve had such a disrupted journey overnight,” Richard Brown, Eurostar’s chief executive, told BBC TV.

“We’ve been getting people home as quickly as we can but they have had very bad journeys.”

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Eurostar, operated by French rail operator SNCF, its Belgian counterpart SNCB and British government-owned LCR, said it would investigate what had happened and was offering compensation to passengers.

A rescue locomotive and a shuttle train were used to move passengers out of the 51-km (32-mile) tunnel, the longest undersea subway in the world. It conveys about 40,000 people a day between Britain and continental Europe.

Passengers accused Eurostar of doing little to help them.

“There was very, very poor communication from the staff,” said Lee Godfree who was returning to Britain with his family from Disneyland Paris.

He said passengers had been forced to get off a marooned train themselves and had moved through the service tunnel in the dark, before getting onto a “filthy” car transport train.

“We’ve had children asleep on the floor, they’ve been sick, we had one loo (toilet), it’s been a complete nightmare,” he told BBC radio. “We had people fainting on the train. It was just pandemonium.”

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Last year, the tunnel, which opened in 1994, was shut for two days after a large fire broke out on a freight train. A blaze in 1996 halted freight traffic for seven months.

The Eurostar cancellations and problems with cross-Channel ferries caused huge delays on motorways leading to the ports of Dover and Folkestone.

Heavy snowfalls across southeastern England on Friday had already brought chaos to road, rail and air traffic.

London’s Gatwick and Luton Airports were closed for many hours and flights were cancelled at Heathrow and Stansted, the capital’s two other major airports.

Budget airline EasyJet said it had cancelled more flights on Saturday because of the bad weather, with forecasters at Britain’s Met Office predicting further snow showers on Saturday and temperatures as low as minus 10C.

Additional reporting by Tim Castle; editing by Andrew Roche