Easter Eurostar Train – Nightmare Journey from Hell
Published 5 April 2010
Eurostar have done it again. On another big holiday, they have managed to turn what should be relaxing dream holiday for their passengers into a nightmare journey from hell. More than a hundred passengers who were travelling on a Eurostar train on Easter Sunday, 4th April found their journeys prolonged by more than 4 hours due to electrical failures.
I was on the 8:29pm Eurostar train, travelling back to London Kings Cross St Pancras from a long Easter Weekend break to Brussels, when the train suddenly ground to a halt just after Lille station in France and before the train had entered the Channel tunnel. At first, we thought it was just a minor problem, for example congested train tracks. But after a half hour standstill we started to get worried, especially since it was pitch dark outside and also because the air ventilation system had switched off and the emergency lighting had come on. It was only about 40 minutes later when we got our first update on the situation, that there was an electric failure that was causing the problem. Horror thoughts had begun to race through my head that we would have to sleep on the train overnight.
Over the next half hour to an hour and a half we were given intermittent updates, starting from the cheery “we should be on our way soon” to “we might have to turn back to Lille” and eventually “we are turning back to Lille and you will have to board another train”. Throughout it all, there were no refreshment carts going by, and only after about an hour and a half did a staff member walk through the train to provide more information and answer questions.
Surprisingly, despite the electricity/power failure, the train managed to get itself back to Lille Station, with all the lights and ventilation working. There, we were told to get onto another train across the platform, which had just come from London. However, the organisation was shambolic as it took another 20 minutes for them to open the automatic doors between the platforms, leaving us to stand in the cold, men and women, babies and the elderly alike.
So we eventually switched trains, and those on that train from London or Paris switched to our defective train, which was strange.
After a bit of a wait, we were then on our way again, and this time the train managed to make it all the way back to Kings Cross St Pancras. The original train should have arrived at 9:30pm British Time, but we ended up arriving at the station about three hours later just after midnight. We were told that taxis would be provided free of charge by Eurostar, and that we should collect our cab vouchers at the ticket counter.
There was a mad dash to the ticket counter in St Pancras station, and we were fortunate to be in the middle of the queue, and even then it took us a good half hour to an hour to get to the front of the queue. While I was there, I witnessed a mother with 4 young kids in tow being told to join right at the end of the queue, and several other passengers I spoke to later said that initially there were only two staff members at the ticket counter issuing cab vouchers. While passing the time by taking photos, I was stopped by a man whose badge identified him as H Maouchi, a Eurostar Duty Control Assistant, who seemed more intent on preventing people taking photos rather than helping out with the voucher issuance.
Eurostar finally saw fit to start giving out cans of coke and small packet of crisps at the ticket counter as token compensation. Presumably, they had wanted to make as much money as they could from the bar counters on board the delayed train before showing their apology with a few snack bribes at the end of the night. Still, by the time we got to the counter, there were only a few can of warm soda left (no water or anything else), definitely not enough for the long queue still behind us.
Having queued up for the cab voucher, we faced a further queue for actual London cabs, with the reason given that it was an Easter Sunday and past midnight. Fair enough. But Eurostar staff did know the train would be delayed hours earlier, and they knew how many passengers were on the train, so really they could have organised many more cabs to be at St Pancras. In addition, they seemed to only want to use London Black Cabs and not call in reinforcements from cab services like Addison Lee, which I found extremely puzzling. There were also many cab drivers who pulled up to the taxi rank only to drive off empty as they refused to pick up passengers with a Eurostar voucher.
At the end of the day, we arrived back home at 2am. If the train had run smoothly it should have been four hours earlier at 10pm. I concede that trains breaking down is really just bad luck, but the way the Eurostar staff and management handled the situation was shambolic, even more so because they should have learnt from their experience in December and January and honed their system to deal with emergencies like this.
If Nicolas Petrovic, the CEO of Eurostar is reading this, there’s still a lot of work to do on Eurostar I’m afraid. Offering a free cab ride home, some crummy crisps and a can of warm soda is really the bare minimum. Sure, we were also offered a free return Eurostar journey in the future as compensation for the delay, but what about an option of a full refund and better emergency service next time?
Exclusive photos from the Eurostar train breakdown:
Were you on the train? Have you experienced something similar on Eurostar? Did your insurance cover your onward journey? Leave us a comment below to let us know.
Article written by Boon Koh.