High-speed rail deal may mean more services between UK and Europe

The UK government has leased its High Speed One line to a Canadian consortium. The line, which cost more than £5 billion ($8.1 billion) in taxpayer money to build, will be run by Borealis Infrastructure and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension fund on a 30 year lease. They paid £2.1 billion ($3.4 billion) in the deal.

The High Speed One line is the route that Eurostar uses in its journeys from London to Paris and Brussels. The consortium plans to open the line up to more train companies in a move that will see more competition, and hopefully lower rates, on the popular route.

The line will continue to be under the ultimate authority of the UK government and subject to its regulations.

[Photo courtesy user Sunil060902 via Wikimedia Commons]

Eurostar to suspend Channel train service indefinitely

Most people think “airlines” when the topic turns to the misery of holiday travel. Well, the trains are getting in on the action now. European railway Eurostar‘s Channel Tunnel train, which connects England and France, is being shut down indefinitely. It’s a natural side-effect of having more than 2,000 passengers trapped inside the tunnel for several hours because of technical glitches.

Several hours? Try 15 of ’em! Sans food, water or information, passengers had no relief from a truly miserable situation.

Eurostar has promised that it won’t send any more trains into the tunnel until the problem has been identified and resolved. On Sunday, it said that the malfunction was related to “acute weather conditions in northern France,” according to a report by The Associated Press. The area is suffering its worst winter in recent memory.

The suspension of train service under the English Channel forced 31,000 people in Great Britain, France and Belgium to cancel their travel plans on Saturday, with another 26,000 estimated to have been impacted on Sunday. The backlog is still building, and Eurostar isn’t planning to start selling tickets again until after Christmas.
So, time to hop on a flight, right? Not quite.

The winter storm conditions that Eurostar is blaming for the train’s being trapped in the tunnel forced air carriers to cut almost half the flights departing from both airports in Paris through the middle of Sunday afternoon. More are expected for Monday. Lines were long at the airport in Brussels, as well.

[Photo by OliverN5 via Flickr]

Channel tunnel to remain closed through the weekend

The Channel Tunnel between France and England will remain closed throughout the weekend as unseasonably cold weather continues to cause travel headaches across northwestern Europe.

More than two thousand passengers were stranded in the Channel Tunnel for up to 16 hours on Friday when five Eurostar trains had electrical malfunctions. Thousands more were stuck on either side of the tunnel with no way to get across. The problem is being blamed on the temperature differences between the cold conditions outside and the warm air inside the tunnel.

A few Eurostar trains did go through the tunnel this weekend but two showed symptoms of the same problems as those on Friday. Eurostar says there is no guarantee that trains will be running on Monday since they have yet to determine the exact nature of the problem and how to fix it.

Passengers who suffered delays are being offered a refund, £150 compensation and a free return ticket.

Thousands trapped in Channel Tunnel

More than two thousand passengers were trapped in the Channel Tunnel last night when unusually cold weather in northern France made four Eurostar trains break down at the same time.

Four trains coming from Brussels and Paris entered the tunnel between France and England and promptly broke down because of the temperature change between the cold air in France and the warm air inside the tunnel.

Some passengers were evacuated after a few hours, but others had to spend all night in the tunnel. The blockage caused a huge traffic jam of cars on either side of the tunnel.

Eurostar has warned that services will remain severely disrupted throughout the weekend and that passengers should seek alternative ways to get to their destination. Eurostar has apologized for the delays and has offered refunds. It’s also considering compensation.

But the trouble doesn’t stop there. Heavy snowfall and unseasonably cold temperatures have disrupted travel in many parts of England and Scotland. Drivers are being turned away from the Channel Tunnel and being warned not to drive on the M20 near Folkstone or Dover. The Port of Calais in France is also closed.

Fire in tunnel under the English Channel halts Eurostar traffic

When my six-year old son and I pulled into Manhattan on the Amtrak train, and again on a Trailways bus last month, we went underground. I’m not sure where Amtrak goes, but Trailways goes through the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River in order to deposit passengers into Port Authority terminal.

As we passed through the tunnel, –the Holland Tunnel, he wondered why the river didn’t come caving in on us. Because the tunnel is well lit, you can see the inside of the tunnel perfectly. On the train, it’s dark outside the train’s window for the most part. Looking out the window means looking at your own reflection.

My son’s question was one of those moments when I realized I really didn’t have a clue. Kind of know, but don’t really know, but willing to trust engineering and the principles of physics. As I explained the safety of such a tunnel, I looked at all that expanse of tile and wondered a bit. Actually, I thought of how awful it would be to be stuck in it for any length of time with exhaust fumes spewing if there was a car wreck. That’s when you say to yourself, “Stay in our own lanes, people, and don’t go too fast. Pay attention.”

In the tunnel going under the English Channel yesterday, a wreck didn’t cause the travel snafu, but a fire on a train going between England and France. According to this article, the train was carrying trucks and only 32 people–mostly drivers of those trucks.

For passengers hoping to go through the tunnel on the train, they had to find alternative ways to get to France or stay where they were. Just like weather is something that airlines say they have no control over and won’t fork over assistance, so are fires in train tunnels. Eurostar said that because they have no control over fires they won’t help with plane tickets or hotel rooms. You can, however, get a refund or exchange tickets for another time. (I found this out on the Eurostar Web site.)

Because the fire is still going, trains are not heading through that tunnel today. I bet the ferries are packed with people lucky to snag a ticket. For the rest of the stuck people, lots of luck. (The photo by OliverN5 is of Eurostar trains at the Gard du Nord in Paris, France.)