back to article Can anyone explain the chunnel fiasco?

During the weekend channel tunnel fiasco, Eurostar sent five trains into the tunnel and not one came out. Only then did it stop sending trains. Okay. Imagine you're Eurostar's fat controller in charge of despatching trains. Two have gone into the tunnel and not come out. Do you send in trains number three, four, and five? Not …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In other news...

    ... I was delayed by 2 hours on a 10 minute trip yesterday morning.

    Snow happens, expect to be delayed when it does!!!

  2. JWS

    No surprises then!

    None of this surprises me in the slightest, lack of proper scenario testing and consideration is far to prominent, especially considering how many "consultants" are being used these days! I'll stick to a boat where I can walk around and get drunk.

  3. Neil 32
    Thumb Down


    Sorry, I think that is a slightly simplistic and, possibly, unfair view of what happened...

    First, how do we know that trains 2 and 3 (and 4 and 5, possibly) weren't already in the tunnel when the first one broke down? (Particularly given 9053 and 9055 left 30 mins apart, a journey through the tunnel takes approx 30 mins, I don't know the stopping patterns of the 2 trains, nor if either were late, held up on the route, etc so it is perfectly feasible for one to have entered just before the first one broke down.) The tunnel, as you state, could possibly take 10 times this number of trains, and until 1 breaks down, there is no reason to stop trains entering.

    You complain the tunnel only had 2 rescue locos available, and sound surprised. The East Coast Main Line, I understand, is approx 500 miles in length from London to Edinburgh and has 4 rescue locos available. The tunnel is just 31 miles long, and has 2. There's only 2 tracks under the channel, so how does having more trains help? Maybe you could argue 4 is more suitable (2 working from each end of the tunnel, 1 per line). Also, the more rescue locos you have sat idle the more you pay on maintenance and the more stand-by drivers you have to pay; a cost which is passed onto the customer. There is a case here of having to balance risk with cost, and given how rarely more than 1 rescue train, let alone 2, has been needed I think the balance is about right.

    "We know that there is a cab signalling system in the tunnel which is used to give information directly to train drivers on a display." Indeed... But if you read up on the system on your wonderful source, Wikipedia, I think you will find it only displays speed instructions. Sadly, the cab signalling system isn't a free-form text screen (can you imagine what the drivers and signallers may spend all day doing!) on which drivers can be informed of delays, etc. So your comment about "the communications route was there for the train staff to be kept informed about what was going" is not accurate in this form. I would hope that there is in-cab radio for this sort of thing, but if the electrics have been shorted out there is a chance this would not be working (I would hope there is a battery backup, but even that will have limited capacity and may be prone to the same shorting).

    There is probably a good reason why doors must remain closed in the tunnel (or anywhere else for that matter). What happens when someone opens the door and gets off? They could get left if the train suddenly starts to move, fall off the walkway under the train, etc. This is a safety issue and I think to criticise it is just plain wrong.

    On the matter of emergency food and drink... Well do you really expect them to have an extra supply of food and drink just in case something goes wrong? For a quarter-mile long Eurostar just think how much space this would take up. And what do you do with that food? Keep it there until it goes off, throw it away and replace it? Just think of the waste and the cost!

    Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying the companies invovled are totally free of blame. Procedures do need to be reviewed in light of what went on. Communications in particular need to be looked at.

    Why do we need a public inquiry? Things go wrong all the time. I would hope that the relevant safety boards do their investigations and that recommendations are made and implemented. But do we call for a public inquiry every time something like this goes wrong? There have been worse incidents than this where people have lost lives, yet the standard investigations are carried out, recommendations made and implemented and life goes on.

    This is, sadly, not a perfect world. Things will always go wrong. All we can do is learn from our mistakes to try and make sure they don't go wrong again (at least not in the same way!)

    1. Scott 19


      to much me thinks, job on the line?

      Oh and if i was stuck on a train for 16 hours i would like to know why and see that/the people responsible sacked and as you can guess there will be a cover-up/scape goat found from the people involved so a public enquiry is the only way. I see the french man in charge has already had his man in france in to explain what happened but as usual good old Ove rLord Brown doesn't see any votes in it so he can't be bothered., surprised The Dark Lord ain't got invovled though as this seems right up his 'stick my nose into everthing' street.

      1. Neil 32

        No protest

        I'm nothing to do with Eurostar or any of the connected companies.

        Merely I am someone who has had an interest in railways from a young age. I also get annoyed with the culture of blame.

        Sh*t happens. Life goes on. Demanding the cheif exec stand down is just way OTT. He didn't design the trains, and deliberately make sure they'd fail after 15 (or however many) years like this. Do you think he personally told everyone not to tell the passengers what was going on?

        This was, by the looks of it, a very unfortunate set of circumstances that were never thought of. What the CE now has to do is to be seen to be working with the right people to establish what went wrong, where there is room for improvement, and get things back on track (pun intended!)

        As has been pointed out elsewhere, I'd like to see you do better... All to easy to sit behind your computer and criticise.

        *wonders if our ranting reporter was a passenger on one of those trains and wanted somewhere to let off some steam* (OK, enough with the train puns!)

    2. Stoneshop

      Rescue locos

      Maybe the East Coast Main Line has only four, but I doubt none can be shunted in with more than just a little effort. Also, the ECML is for the largest part overground, offering more options for emergency crew to reach, and/or passagers to disembark from, a train suffering from Incorrect Crystalline Solid Water Related Functional Degradation. A tunnel basically just has two: forwards and backwards, so maybe more weight should be given to fully utilizing those options (ready-to-digest managerese here).

      As for emergency rations: bottled water doesn't really go off, and can be kept as a FIFO buffer for the onboard catering (standard railway catering sandwiches don't go off either, but are unfit for human consumption from the start already anyway). And how much space would a couple of thousand or so energy bars take up?

  4. Michael Smith


    At one point I saw a headline in the media which said "2000 people stuck under the English channel"

    In this day and age that's not as bad a thing as it could be...

    Now a quick thought about software. Maybe there is something each train has to do when the temperature changes. Maybe it looks up a table (0-9:0, 10-19:1, ..., 50-59:4 (oops, array only goes to 3)) or something similarly systematic. I have seen it happen in a different, and supposedly safety focused industry.

  5. David 45

    Slight problem

    Fiasco is the right term. Makes them look a laughing stock. The system has been running long enough, surely, to anticipate problems like this. Incidentally, hardly anyone here in the UK refers to the tunnel as "The Chunnel" any more. That was a publicity term that was coined for it and, for some reason, it never really caught on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You've lost me...

      How does running a service for 15 years make you more likely to anticipate a unpredictable fault?

  6. this



  7. meteort


    As an American living in Japan, I see two possible solutions:

    American solution: If you don't have trains, you won't have train trouble. Close it down.

    Japanese solution: Hire the Japanese to run your Chunnel thingy. The only thing that stops trains over here are "jumpers".

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Fit decent screenwipers..

      'The only thing that stops trains over here are "jumpers".'

      Armour the front, fit decent screenwipers and ensure the nose is painted red. There you go, six nines reliability..

      Joking aside, I think it's all a bit early to point fingers. There is a complex mixture of issues at work. Insufficient shielded electronics is in my humble opinion worth investigating - WTF? Secondly, I am very often involved in DR design as well as scenario training (no plan is worth the effort unless exercised in reality), and I handle the big ones of this world. It strikes me that whoever did the DR planning for these guys hasn't been thinking it through - ANYTHING can fail.

      Once things have quieted down a bit I would certainly invest in using that quiet time to improve matters. Thing can happen once, that can be bad planning or bad luck - if they happen again, however, you will have to start asking much harder questions.

  8. GreyWolf

    Eurostar Directors are Muppets

    Saw a Eurostar director interviewed on TV. He said about the weather-related breakdowns that "this is unprecedented". No, mate, it isn't. The Stockholm commuter trains had exactly this problem during winters of 76, 77, 78 (they didn't learn from their mistakes either). We've all heard of the "wrong kind of leaves" - the Stockholm excuse was "the wrong kind of snow".

    Did Eurostar bother gathering winter operating experience from around Europe before approving a flawed design?

    I can promise all El Reg readers that standing waiting for a dead train on an outdoor platform in temperatures of -20C for an hour or two is quite arduous.

  9. Tim Roberts 1

    5 trains in none out?

    .... sounds like a tear in the franco-english space time continuum to me. Where's the Doctor when you need him?

  10. tony

    Public Inquiry...

    Can we also have public inquires into the general shitness of uk rail where delays and inept excuses are standard operating procedure?

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Process failures

    It's interesting also to note that on the other two occasions when serious problems happened (the two fires) the reaction was faster and more effective. The difference in those circumstances was that the "blue light" emergency services were invoked, and when that happens they, as a rule, take charge and start issuing orders.

    Clearly, if someone *is* issuing coherent, sensible, orders, the right things happen reasonably quickly, so the failure here is at the order-giving high level of Eurostar. Do they have a crisis management team? Was it invoked?

    I've been on tunnel trains a few times, car & passenger. The car trains were OK, it's just a pity they are now consistently more expensive than the ferries. My most recent passenger experience (August) was disappointing. The Gare du Nord waiting room was too small to hold all passengers and luggage, and boarding was more chaotic than for an Easyjet flight. The train, which was grubby and worn, stopped for an hour at Lille due to an unspecified technical problem which required an 'engineer' to be sent to fix it. The TGV to Paris was a notably better experience (note, though, that French regional trains get just as many brickbats for service as the old Network Southeast. The "grandes lignes" are clearly treated as a priority).

    Eurostar all gives the impression of an operation run on a shoestring, with no margin for problems. Is there an authority which monitors maintenance and operating procedures for trains, like the CAA/FAA do for aircraft?

  12. AllanE

    Unprecidented? Nope.

    Good analysis. As for this being unprecidented, it seems there is a short organisational memory at Eurostar.

    Unfortunately the internet has a longer memory, take a look at this report in The Guardian from 2003:

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I for one

    Am actually glad that the Eurostar service is still driven by human beings like myself, who have been from time to time known to cock things up. Unlike Chris Mellor here who is obviously a perfect robot, who would probably shut down the oxygen in section one to get section five out quicker.

    So people were late, but they were going to be anyway. Everyones gladly alive. This whole event was obviously beyond what they had forseen and yes a total balls up.... someone will have lost a few millions. So long as they learn from it everyones happy these things happen. We're human.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not that surprised

    I travel on Eurotunnel (not Eurostar - I take a car across) on average three days per week, and if a train is late leaving the platform (not that regular an occurrence, I hasten to add) they are very bad at saying why.

  15. David John Walsh
    Paris Hilton

    I can't explain but I can add to the mystery :)

    Some food for though .......

    --The RCC / Eurotunnel --

    If the Eurotunnel [the phat controller that actually controls the tunnel traffic, not the ex-le shuttle bit] RCC was to have failed (The UK one) There is another one in France that 'officially' runs like an AXE-10 or similar (ie dual hot, one executive, the non-executive one 1 instruction behind).

    In laymans terms if the UK one stops working, The french one takes over - almost without the actual people who run it realising they are now in control of the tunnel....... and if the French one were then to also fail, then a failsafe falls into play -so lets throw out the idea of the RCC going down, partly as that would have leaked by now.

    Also as the article states - the number of slots in the tunnel is very undersubscribed even at peak. So much so, that assuming a rival operator gets its rolling-stock certified, as of next year there is the possibility of lots of passenger services by different companies running (eg RyanRail, EasyEurope....... humm ok lets not get off track). My point here is that to the RCC, even if everything wasn't 'business as usual' they certainly wasn't out of their normal operating procedures, or if they were - they were minor deviations from it.

    That strongly leads me to believe that it wasn't the Eurotunnel phat control operators [humans on ground] that caused the initial issue. [i'm just following orders comes to mind] Thought that bit of the business was wholly to blame for not getting the people out of the tunnel sooner can't really be awarded to any one else... though i'm sure they will try! .



    So lets look at Eurostar. This bit needs splitting into 3 or more.

    Bit A : Eurostar, the rail bit - as the article says Eurostar in this context is simply a customer of a carrier (or in this case 3 carriers - High Speed 1, SNCEF and "Under-The-Sea") In the same way we buy T1/E1's etc so do they...... so that bit of the business can breath a sigh of relief.... they couldn't have stopped this either IMHO.

    Bit B : The poor gits still at the station customer service (ie anyone in CS that isn't on the train) -

    You failed on this one big time.... big time ...... There are hundreds of things you could have done, and in this case many of them should have been done.

    You could have used the time to ring SouthEastern and block book the Javelins, your friends at SNCEF and get TGV's stacked at Calais and figure out the bit at Dover/ Calais or something similar. You could have "rang" every hotel in a 10 mile radius of the stations and block booked out rooms that were still free and got cabs to transport ppl back and too and many other things that would have helped your customers..

    Basically if you feel the need to bring in the police - you need to think - i've upset one too many people... and that should on its own send alarm bells ringing that your doing things wrong.

    Im going to stop on this bit now as the rest of what i want to say is a bit too in-depth for a comment section.

    Bit C : The Train and its posse... heres where things get really interesting.

    I have personally been on 3 Eurostars that have broken down for >2 hours and 2 others that suffered temporary issues.(out of lots - so by the law of averages I'm happy with the number of issues I have been involved in!) and for this train operator theres some quirks

    The train is supposed to (and does) carry two sets of crew. The train itself is a mirror of itself (The mirror being at carriage 9/10). This level of double staffing is complete - There are two drivers and driver possee (essentially one is on service, the other on a break ) NB The trains never turn around, and if as I have experienced the train were to stop between Ebbsfleet and Ashford and the London pulling carriage goes completely tits-up - the Paris pulling carriage pulls it back to Ashford...... quite sensible if you ask me.

    This suggests that both sides of one of the train failed, else i'd have thought they would have invoked this to pull them out on the French side, non?

    Inside the passenger bit there are actaully TWO head honchos of the train - and likewise down the ranks.... this is for service level reasons (mostly) as without it the train is too big to manage by a single crew.

    My point here is with two equals on the train, even with an assumed official policy on who runs the show and all of the required facts at both of the head honchos fingers, in the event of an event there is an even number of people making decisions, the same people who will at some point need to work together again - and that always seems to lead to trouble. nuff said

    The other point is that even if a train gets to a station - thats not the end of the troubles for "Eurostar" - as the train is essentially in a sort of international no-mans land. Everyone has passed boarder checks and this is where the problem starts.

    e.g If a train breaks down in Lille and they open the doors, and another train 'stops (sked)' in Lille they risk a real, if slim chance of letting someone who is barred from a country entering it - They very nicely call this 'cross contamination' (A unfortunate but highly accurate and emphatic phrase).

    This is probably the number one reason we hear - 'we were locked on the train for ages'

    It boils down to this, there are a number of things "Eurostar" don't really have control over when the smelly stuff hits [though they need better negotitors prior to this] , the one they do is customer service. Unexpected bad things happen but how you deal with them is more important once they have happened. In most cases more than what has happened... and here we have a prime example of how not to handle the aftermath.

    To me, this feels like actions of bean counters and suit types that have blocked in the past the sensible concerns of the folks on the ground who probably have preached this was waiting to happen..... only for there ideas to be welcomed and promptly put in a siding marked "bin" or /dev/null - i make this assumption based on general life experience :)

    On the plus side I now personally have 4 free returns with them (and at this rate - increasing!!..... does anyone know - are they like shell stamps.... can i trade them for a toaster...?

    Paris, well many reasons... I'd like to stay in the Paris Hilton on Eurostars expense :)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    It's easy to explain

    The three I s that drive the world - Ignorance, Incompetence and Idleness

  17. Dominic (The Pimp) Connor

    Easy to explain, wrong board members

    Now that I don't have a real job any more I can admit I know exactly what will have happened.

    The tunnel contains warm moist air, easy to see condensation getting to electronics.

    But the real chaos is caused by the choice of board members...

    Reading their own list of board members, it appears that no senior executive was in a position to understand the problem. Sure they have a lawyer, marketing people, but no one who could understand what was going on, *by his own knowledge"

    There was no top executive who could ask hard questions, or understand the answers.

    Worse, it appears that this bunch of arts graduates *could not* really understand, even if it were explained to them.

    Nearly all Reg readers have tried to explain some technical screw up to non-technical people.

    We use baby language, and put our own spin on it.

    If we are technical managers, passing this on, there are multiple levels of spin in what we say based upon reposrts from our PFYs and BOFHs.

    Thus the board of directors were misniformed, which includes their spin doctors who emitted vast amounts of contradictory information, not because they are dishonest, but because literally no one knoew what was going on.

    Of course if you don't know what's going on, you can't manage the fix either.

    some junior managers will try to fix things, and of course spin their "I'm saving the day" to the charlatans who claim to be whatever passes for engineering management at Eurostar.

    Since there is no one at board level in charge, there is no one to make decisions based upon any rational basis.

    That explains the failure to evacuate, some political faction said they could fix it soon, and it is clear that they had more political power at that time than the safety management, who all should be fired, today.

    Safety management isn't on the board either, apparently, which should not surprise us, given the decisions made. But for PR purposes there will be a lonely old guy who didn't make it in the corporate rat race who got the short straw of being top of the safety tree at eurostar.

    He won't be all that bright, and clearly has no personal integrity, because he has one absolute veto on any action by his firm, he can walk out of his office and start talking to the horde of journalists, about why it is bad to leave thousands trapped in a tunnel.

    But he didn't, he wen with the "commercial decision" and was lucky no one died, because the a board more experienced in playing golf than safety would have left him as the scapegoat.

    Also, where *exactly* was the board ?

    I've been a director, and was expected to be contactable 365*24 in case of major screwup, including a fax being sent to a hotel which put it on a boat to the little island I was staying on.

  18. amanfromearth
    Dead Vulture


    Has this site been hacked into by the Trainspotters Alliance?

  19. Richard Thomas 1

    A few things...

    It was a Eurostar spokesman, not a Eurotunnel one talking about the fluffy snow, at the top of page two.

    I live a few miles south of Calais, and can vouch that the snow was definitely very fluffy near the tunnel (I'm about 3 miles from the tunnel entrance).

    I'd be very surprised if there really was no procedure to cover a stalled train - trains get stuck in the tunnel for one reason or another relatively regularly, and considering what they *have* produced contingency plans for (from my experience they seem to have thought of everything - I'm a very regular traveller), they must have a plan to cover a power failure, which is effectively what happened.

  20. Gulfie

    Some Enlightenment is required

    As somebody who had the privilege to work on the software for, and install, the IECC signalling system for British Rail in the late 80's I would like to enlighten you on the subject of signalling. I'm sure somebody with a fine collection of anoracks and notebooks will correct me but the gist is important.

    On the UK rail network, signals turn red automatically when a train goes past. There is no manual intervention. Further, the interlock system that turns the signal red will prevent an operator from routing a train into an occupied section of track, it simply won't allow the route to be set. At best it will allow the operator to specify where a train is to go, but it will not permit two trains to occupy the same block of track at the same time.

    It would appear that the first train got some way into the tunnel before failing - past several signals. The other trains would simply follow on according to timetable because they had a green signal - the systems are largely automated (I still remember with fondness the train from London at 13:15 every Monday that would crash the automatic routing software in York). So the trains simply backed up in the tunnel, one per block of track, and subsequently failed as described when the snow melted.

    It isn't all that unusual that the other trains were allowed into the tunnel, after all, the signallers would not know that the problem hitting the first train would also hit the subsequent ones - after all, they didn't know what the problem actually was. There was no reason to believe that all the trains would break down, and there was no rail safety issue in letting them move on into the tunnel. Especially as the alternative was to block up track in, or on the French side of, the Calais terminus. As far as they were concerned, one train broke down and as soon as it was towed out, the rest would continue on their journey.

    And to be picky on a point of grammar: "The combined temperature, snow type, and humidity in northern Feance and the tunnel were exceptional - that means untested in system testing terms". To be precise, the systems were untested, not the weather conditions.

    (Hello to all my ex-IECC project colleagues, with special mentions to Alistair M, GT 'taxi from Bristol' Smith and Graham Stacey).

    1. Richard Porter

      @Gulfie 10:42

      I too was involved with the IECC project in the 1980s, for a contractor, but I did visit RTC Derby from time to time. However IECC is basically a computerised NX panel using monitors and tracker balls, plus ARS, interfacing to solid state or route relay interlockings. But that's at least a generation or two behind what's deployed on the high speed lines.

  21. richard 69

    thanks for the info

    i didn't actually realise it was that bad, thanks for the analysis.

    trains are gonna break down. so there must be adequate backup plans when you've got old folks and kids stuck under the sea!!

    schoolboy errors indeed. think i'll get the ferry for next years paris trip.

    1. Tim Hughes
      Thumb Down

      Hmmm Ferries ...

      ... safe as houses they are, never had one sink yet. Oh, hold on wasn't there ... ?

      PS I would like to believe that your "standard" adult would also feature in any emergency plans, as well as the old and young. This isn't the Titanic, you know.

  22. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Another classic of British customer services

    Let's screw up royally and when we've got the passengers fuming with frustration and boiling in their own sweat let's not tell them anything as we are *so* busy fixing it.

    With just a *little* effort this did not have to be the massive fail it was. The start question being do they normally stuff that many down the hole without one coming out first?

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Presumably the drivers are French?

    And didn't want to tell the passengers WTF was going on. Sounds like typical French service industry behaviour, locking the door and not communicating.

    Not that I'm saying british service industry is much better "computer says: no" or "delays due to unforeseen circumstances" would have probably been the level of communications...

  24. Pigeon

    Good article

    Perhaps Eurostar can learn from this. At least there was no crash, and the outcome was better than the average ferry disaster.

  25. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Pilot error?

    .... is what the french usually blame their tech failures on.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    total perspective vortex

    Just an unavoidable side effect of boring huge holes into the planets surface. Occasionally various natural forces combine spontaneously to produce a total perspective vortex into which trains just vanish.

    Luckily it's not permanent & they reappear, though what suble effects the process has on the trains and their passengers may not be immediately apparent.

  27. Kurgan5

    It's just simple physics...

    ...keep sending trains in at one end and eventually the pressure will build up so much they all pop out of the other end!

    Er... right?

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Required piece of text... kind of like a DIY captcha

    surely the number of trains is decided solely by the rate and the time.

    The rate varies throughout the day, but Im sure that on such a busy line its not a small number.. and possibly even normal practice to have three or more in there at once.

    so if the lead train fails 80% of the way through trains 2 and 3 are already in. trian 4 enters after 5 minutes and train 5 enters after 10 minutes.. by which time driver one has assessed his engine and realised its a brick, radios through to stop further trains at 12 minutes...

    the real disgraces is the lack of coordination of the recovery. the first train was dragged out after many hours and the passangers were transfered but instead of getting them moving they were forced to wait another 3 hrs for the next train to be dragged out. WHY? euro star have been bragging about how quick the service is when the first train broke they should have dispatched a train from London to Kent, then when the first passangers had borded they could have shuttled to london and back to Kent again in that 3 hrs.. ready for the next passangers.

    Instead of closing the tunnel they should have operated a relay service - having to change trains in kent and calais would have been better than no trains. and it would have meant the the snowey trains would not be operating in the tunnel.

  29. JaitcH

    Canadians can't understand ...

    what the wrong type of leaves or the wrong type pf snow has to do with stopping the trains.

    We have impressive amounts of leaves that litter the ground every winter and equally we have deep freezes and snow measured in tens of metres in depth. We have 'fluffy' snow, we have sleet, freezing rain yet our trains remain little affected.

    Yet our trains plow on without interruption, be they electric or diesel powered.

    We have huge snow-blowing machines that clear tracks covered with metres of snow. It is all a matter of being prepared.

    How will you manage the Olympics?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Pure Gold

      How will 'we' manage the Olympics?

      Better than 'you' perform in them my friend.


    2. Gulfie
      Thumb Up

      How will we manage the Olympics?

      Very, very badly I suspect. I have a flat in London, I'm not sure whether to rent it out for the duration and head for the hills, or sit back and laugh at the ineptitude of it all...

    3. Sir Runcible Spoon


      "How will you manage the Olympics?"



      It will be spectacular, you mark my words - a completely farcical spectacle the likes of which The World has rarely seen.

    4. Olafthemighty

      How will we manage the Olympics?

      Remarkably badly, thanks for asking. It will turn out to be France's fault, though: if they hadn't lost the bid, we wouldn't be in this position. Anyone got any sparklers for the opening ceremony?

  30. David Arno

    Wrong sort of management

    As one of the paper's put it this morning, the real cause of failure is that Eurostar employs the "wrong sort of management".

  31. dreamingspire
    Thumb Up

    Those diesel locos

    A rail list says there are 5 diesel locos owned by Eurotunnel, none by Eurostar or contracted to them. One TV shot showed 2 of the Eurotunnel locos towing a train towards London.

    Press release by Eurotunnel on Saturday (19th) says Eurotunnel rescued 5 E* trains and towed 2 of them to St Pancras.

  32. N2

    Epic fail

    So comforting to know that the fat controllers have such scant grasp on whats really going on.

    Thank God they dont run a Nuclear Reactor or is it the same lot of operators that survived Chernobyl?

  33. Skizz


    Your description of the signalling system is incorrect. The high speed continental trains do not use track side signals, nor do they use red/yellow/green signals. They mainly use speed based signals, the driver is shown the target speed for the end of the current block and the speed for the next block, flashing if different. The red/yellow/green signals are only widely used in the UK.

    I'll stop now before getting into the really geeky stuff.

    Mine's the one with the train spotter's almanac in the pocket.

    1. Gulfie

      Fair Do's

      But I did start my post by explaining what happens in the UK, not in the rest of Europe. And saying that somebody like your good self would correct me. Which you have. Except that I explained the UK system. So haven't, really.

      My but what I fine anorack you have there. Is that your own flask? Here, borrow my pencil sharpener.

      The principal is still the same - the systems are designed to prevent two trains from being on the same bit of track at the same time. The rest is just the the agreed protocol around telling the driver what to do/expect.

  34. Tom 15

    What I heard...

    I'm sure my local news (South East Today) reported that they sent more trains in to shunt the first ones out! I doubt they were expecting five trains to break from the same issue...

  35. williamt

    Eurotunnel on Monday?

    Apparently they were only running one shuttle from Folkestone to Cheriton every 2 hours, normally there would be 3 per hour (which suggested to the BBC reporter there that they only had a single train operational.)

    So what went wrong with *their* trains?

    I've also heard the following comments about conditions on one of the stuck Eurostar trains inside the tunnel, that:

    - the Eurostar staff didn't have torches (how many should there be per train?)

    - there was no emergency lighting (are trains legally required to have emergency lighting?)

    - the exit/emergency signs (i.e. stickers) on the train weren't luminous

    I also wonder if the power failure meant the braking failed?

    What I find odd is that *zero* camera-phone footage or audio from passengers on board (who by the sounds of it had all gone to Euro Disney and therefore you'd imagine would have been taking photos of Mickey Mouse) has emerged yet. Maybe there was some but it was so grainy to be of little use..

    1. Neil 32

      Couple of answers

      Most trains I've ever been on have some emergency lighting, but it will be battery operated. Depending on what's tripped with the water ingestion, that may have caused the emergency lighting to fail, or the report may have been chinese whispered and really it was a case of the lighting failed after the batteries discharged. Anyone know how long the battery is meant to last for? (Of course, the same thing would affect the aircon as well.)

      When I was on a Eurostar back in February I'm 99.999% certain the stickers on the trains were illuminous. The problem, I suspect, is that over time the luminance fades - they need to keep seeing light to "recharge".

      I'm pretty certain that brakes are dsigned to failsafe to an "on" position... Fairly basic thing one would hope!

  36. Anonymous Coward

    No common sense.

    Eurostar trains have a special coupling, so not just any loco can rescue them. Trains are difficult to stop, so all the train wheels are needed to stop them, so the correct coupling is necessary, There are rail vehicles which have Eurostar coupling on one end and a more common coupling on the other, so they can be rescued by other locos. I have read that this could not be done because the engines available did not have the correct in-cab signalling equipment which warns the driver about adverse signals and stops the train if he does not. Now you might think in an emergency like this you could drive a little slower and even use an extra driver in case one could not see a big bright red light in the pitch black. So would anyone with half a brain. We used to run railways with people who had a whole brain. Where are they now?

  37. JohnG

    Ostrich management

    What I find amazing is that they put their entire business on hold for few days with passengers stranded at stations. They could have implemented several interim measures which would have reduced the pain for passengers and their own losses:

    1. Run "warm trains" between Cheriton and Coquelles i.e only in the tunnel and transfer passengers at both sides of the tunnel to different trains. It would not have been efficient but it would have been better than nothing;

    2. Stop and clean the snow and ice from the trains before they enter the tunnel. This would need some extra people and equipment and would screw up their timetables - but it is better than nothing.

    There are probably other ideas that would have allowed them to continue at least some service - it is unbelievable that they would just stop everything and leave passengers to fend for themselves.

    1. Pandy06269

      They didn't know what was wrong

      The reports as I understood them was that to begin with they weren't sure what was wrong. 5 trains had stalled in the tunnel but no-one knew why - had they sent more trains into the tunnel, they could also have been affected if the problem had been with the overhead electrics or the signalling systems; thus causing more of a chaos - at worst a major accident.

      The problem wasn't the snow itself, it was the shields preventing snow getting into the electric systems that had failed, even if they'd cleared the snow away there could still have been some underneath the shields which would have melted in the same way. Plus how exactly would you do it? You couldn't get people to do it - they'd have to get too close to the overhead mains lines - a recipe for disaster. If you melted the snow and ice away, well that's what happened anyway.

      IMHO they did the right thing - I'd rather not travel at all or travel 2 days late, than travel on a service where my safety couldn't be guaranteed. Better to have 100,000 people delayed than 2,000 dead.

      There's a lot we don't know about, that we can only read from the news. Only those working for Eurostar and Eurotunnel that day can tell us the truth. Having said that Eurostar do have a lot to learn - particularly as a remarkably similar incident happened in 2003.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        It was not the snow. What happened with the snow that got through the barrier was though that it melted very quickly in the 25 degree heat of the tunnel.

        Condensation can be dealt with somehow, but snow that has managed to make it through the louvres into the electrics (i.e. the transformers in the power cars) is not something you can deal with with a broom or snow blower.

        We've had this before where our service (the first morning service from Bruxelles) also got stranded in the tunnel together with the first service from Paris and the Le Shuttle for the better part of an hour because the trains were, on the outside, freezing cold and the warm humid air in the tunnel immediately started condensing on everything from the catenary to the ceramic insulators, allowing flashovers to happen and shorting out the electricity supply.

        Only once the affected systems dried off did we move on again, at half-speed, to allow the rest to be dried too, and then carried on to Ashford where the service then resumed at full speed. It's better to have an hour's delay or something than having a complete catastrophic failure.

  38. Martin 49

    It now transpires....

    ...that it was all due to the wrong type of snow.

    Too fluffy, apparently.

    - You couldn't make it up.

  39. Il Midga di Macaroni

    You think you have problems!

    Out here in Australia, we have two parallel rail lines running from Melbourne to Albury, and because one is for intrastate passenger services and the other for interstate freight, they operate on separate radio frequencies - and have no way of communicating. So when a freight train derailed and spewed billets of steel all over the passenger track, a passenger train ploughed into it because the message didn't get through in time.

    I used the trains in the UK extensively on my last two visits, and everything seems to work incredibly smoothly by our standards. Hold a public enquiry by all means, but don't forget the things that DO work.

  40. Anonymous Coward

    Just a quick question...

    Were they running the LHC at the time ? Because for all we know the whole of the SNCF could have discappeared down that tunnel without as much as 1 train coming out the other's them darned black holes, see...

  41. John H Woods Silver badge

    You won't catch me down there...

    ... ever. Glad my LPG car is prohibited. Thank goodness the shorted electrical systems didn't catch fire. I think a public enquiry is required, and humiliation of those responsible for this fiasco.

  42. johnB


    The standard criticism of railways is that they take you from where you don't live to where you don't work.

    Thanks to this incompetent bunch, even that's beyond them.

  43. danfreak

    It's the strike, stupid

    For some reason the Chunnel's PR department don't want to mention the strike that was taking place at the same time:

  44. Richard Jones 1

    Snow, Snow Go No Snow

    Th absence of factual reports from the' villains' of this piece, whoever they may be does mean that one can only go on speculation but if the trains had total power failures then this 'might' also have affected the public address system as well.

    If this was the case it is another resounding design and testing failure, if power was not the issue then a clear procedural failure has been revealed.

    Given the time it took and the presence of the 'service tunnel', evacuation by 'golf cart' would have taken less than the time some people waited and it is clear that evacuation trains should have run a shuttle service from the tunnel mouth towards either London or Paris.

    If we are going into speculation, even a bloke with a leaf blower could have dried the damned things out in the time that they were faffing about.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Golf cart...

      The 'golf cart' train is designed to only evacuate to either side of the tunnel, not as a 'shuttle' service. Considering that there was no fire, and no immediate need for evacuation (although, from a customer perspective there certainly was), the golf cart trains were not needed.

      What one does learn from this episode is the same as what GNER had to learn the hard way a few years ago when train passengers demolished the windows on their Mallard services that were stuck on the ECML between Peterborough and Grantham is that humans have a very low tolerance for discomfort, and being stuck in the dark in a hermetically sealed metal tube in 25 to 28 degree heat is very uncomfortable, especially when the comfort zone in said tube is managed by... electrics.

      Train designers would be well advised to learn again from this incident to ensure that a) their electric systems do not fail, and b) if they do fail, to ensure that the comfort zone is maintained to a degree by backup systems.

      It would be good if Alstom (the train OEM) would weigh in here and either run a test service that will reproduce this problem and then come up with design changes that can be applied to TGV (and its direct derivatives - including Eurostar).

      Eurostar will really have to work on their communication and disaster-recovery plans where this is concerned. When there are multiple services stuck in the tunnel and several others cancelled, the amount of people booked on the trains (600+) multiplies significantly. Having three days of no real communication about whether services will be run or not, is terrible from a PR standpoint. The board of the company is irrelevant, it is the PR and operational management side that needed to step in and do something.

  45. Martin Nicholls


    "Eurostar operates blind when trains are in the tunnel"

    I'd say that's probably a fair assesment. The point was probably that they assumed the trains would be moving again at a reasonable point in time.. By the time somebody figured out that was not the case (if they did at all or if the tunnel was just packed full is another debate), you have a major problem.

    The signalling question is are the trains likely to bump into each other, if not they'll keep sending them.

    Can we also be clear that the problem appears to have been on the french side of the tunnel, you know, the side who's rail systems everyone likes to make a song and dance about how awesome they are for as long as I can remember.

    Fact is it's a complicated system under multiple jurisdictions, it's a complicated problem to deal with. The biggest issue is that you're in a tunnel under the sea - sometimes it's gonna go wrong... I've long held the belief that the channel tunnel should be for freight only, but what are you gonna do?

  46. Anonymous Coward

    Dreadful article

    Speculation heaped upon speculation with nary a fact in sight, scaremongering phraseology ("Eurostar operates blind when trains are in the tunnel", despite the fact that all he's describing is signalling and train operation being run by different business units or companies - standard practice (EU mandated requirement, in fact) in the whole of Europe,) an idiot's guide to signalling written by an idiot, and... cap it all...

    ...we get an 'our sources said' of great pomposity that turns out to be, err, Wikipedia...

    Come on El Reg, surely even you must be embarrassed by that?

    Still, I liked the idea of Eurostar putting up "its own red signal at the tunnel entrance." What did you have in mind; one of the local railway children waving their petticoat perhaps?

    1. blackworx


      But it's a comment piece. Clue's in the sub. Says "Comment" right there in bold at the beginning. Dunno about you but I read comment pieces for the opinion, speculation and shit-stirring - it's what makes them interesting.

    2. Jonathon Green
      Paris Hilton

      An American Werewolf in The Railway Children.

      "I liked the idea of Eurostar putting up "its own red signal at the tunnel entrance." What did you have in mind; one of the local railway children waving their petticoat perhaps?"

      If it involves a young Jenny Agutter-a-like getting undressed in public then I for one am all in favour. :-)

      Paris - no substitute for J.A. but sometimes you just have to take what you can find...



      1. Stevie


        Well done Jonathon. This is the truest thing I've ever read on the internet.

  47. Anton Ivanov

    Executive summary: positive thinking

    The idiot in charge of Eurotunnel procedures has been thinking happy thoughts. The triumph of positive thinking as prophesized by corporate wellbeing gurus exemplified. Halleluiah...

    Unfortunately noone will learn from the lesson.

  48. Anonymous Coward

    More importantly

    for the pointy hired ones. Has the Chunnel maintained five 9s uptime ,If not why not, the salesman said it would :-)

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Gulfie is, of course, quite right.

    Although somewhat more advanced than the standard BR signalling systems/IECCs, the LGV signalling as used on the Channel Tunnel lines is in principle still basic fixed-block signalling as used elsewhere on the network and described by Gulfie. The only fundamental difference is that in-cab signalling is used rather than trackside lights, and if I remember rightly the in-cab signal presents a target speed rather than 'red'/'double yellow'/'yellow'/'green' etc.

    (I omitted the sad experiment that was 'flashing green' - if only that had been allowed to go ahead my journey home on the ECML tomorrow would be that much quicker...]

    [The LGV signalling blocks are approx 1km each, which is where this daft '60 trains in the tunnel' figure presumably comes from - 30 blocks on eack track.]

  50. Jacqui Smith's DVD Collection!

    Get over it

    So a few people with big mouths got stuck on a train, stuff breaks down in odd situations, tech isn't perfect, humans are not in absolute control of everything.

    Simply put. Shit Happens!

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Customer Care

    As others have said having five trains in the tunnel is understandable (the signalling allows them all in and keeps them safe (from eachother!).

    The real problem was evacucation and care - no reason why they can't carry enough bottled water on each train for these scenarios. Just before they go out of date replace them and sell the old ones in the buffet if you're concerned about cost. The space can easily be made or found.

  52. Steven Jones

    The great thing about being a journalist...

    No doubt mistakes were made, but the beauty of being a journalist (or a commentator for that matter) is that you can pass judgement on others safe in the knowledge that you won't ever get called upon to manage situations like this in real life with all the complexities, pressure, confusion and constraints that apply.

    The way to sort these things out is a properly constituted enquiry which can spend time interviewing the people involved and have something more than a superficial set of facts.

  53. Anonymous Coward

    @anonymous coward

    Err, that should be 'red', 'yellow', 'double yellow', 'green' of course, in order of most restrictive to least restrictive aspect. I switched yellow and double yellow around...

    Since I'm correcting myself anyway, for the benefit of a few people who seem to think that the LGV lines use illuminated signals, they do not - signalling is presented in-cab, and for bloody good reason.

    High-speed trains take a long time to stop. This means you either need (a) very long signal blocks, so that the distance of the block is adequate for the train to slow down when it meets a restrictive signal, or (b) you need more signal indications, allowing you to slow the train down in smaller steps. Longer signal blocks means fewer trains on the lines (== reduced capacity) so there are tradeoffs to be made here.

    The standard on British high-speed lines is 4-aspect signalling. Red-yellow-double yellow-green as described above. "Green" means 'go at maximum line speed', "red" means stop, and the yellow/double yellow in between are speed grades in between.

    When the IC225 trains (max speed ~ 140mph) were introduced on the East Coast Main Line, BR's solution to allowing them to reach their maximum speed was to introduce a fifth signal aspect - the 'flashing green' signal, rather than reduce capacity across the entire line by lengthening the signal blocks (not to mention the inordinate expense of resignalling the entire route like that.)

    It was then decided that in practice drivers could not be expected to respond to trackside signals at over 125mph, and the fifth aspect was abandoned - for this reason the ECML IC225s have never actually run in service at their top speed, and are limited to 125mph. From that point on it was mandated that for higher speeds the signalling must be presented in-cab.

    Now, the point of this little anecdote is this - on the LGV lines, the same capacity/signal block length tradeoffs need to be made, but the problem is even more acute because the trains run even faster. So the solution is the signalling has even more aspects - something like 7 different signals between 'maximum line speed' and 'stop'. These are presented in the cab of the train as a target speed, rather than a colour.

    So you see, the idea of trackside signalling something like this is nuts. You'd need a signal pole with a ridiculous number of lights on - 'flashing mauve', anyone? - so, no, it's not quite as simple as "Now you might think in an emergency like this you could drive a little slower and even use an extra driver in case one could not see a big bright red light in the pitch black." A train with in-cab signalling is something of a requirement.

    On another note - the reason this isn't a problem in Canada is that (a) you could outrun a Canadian train with a camel and (b) the cost-benefit calculation for dealing with something that happens every day rather than every 15 years is rather different.

    And bad as the weather here is, we don't get a lot of snow in summer, so probably no great danger to the Olympics...

    1. Colin Millar

      ECML - what a wasted opportunity

      Imagine the increased capacity of full speed 225s plus moveable block. What did we get - a service unfit for cattle.


  54. Kevin Reader
    Paris Hilton

    Sounds like the LTS Line aka Misery line in the 90s

    Ah, it reminds me of major failures on the Late Tardy and Slow, sorry, London Tilbury & Southend Railway in the 1990s. Now called C2C (Crap-2-Customers).

    Dozens of trains all queuing to be disembarked at Laindon (a tiny station), Thousands queuing 5 deep along the entire outside concourse, Two station staff moving secretly in duffle coats when they had to and hiding at every other chance. The funny bit was when a bus pulled in to drop off some people from a day trip and was mobbed on the assumption he was a rail relief bus.

    This crisis and many others like it got no mention on the Radio to our waiting families, no mention in the press afterwards, no meaningful announcements during the entire fiasco. Not wartime spirit - more mushroom management.

    Possit: Did Ken Bird (the leader of their incompetence IIRC) go and work at EuroTunnel/Star?

    Paris Ofcourse, due the classic visual imagery of trains & tunnels.

  55. alex dekker 1

    Where's the anti-Google angle

    Well, come on Google, the trains aren't going to fix themselves, are they?

  56. Maverick

    the 'offical line'

    I listened to a senior director on the Jeremy Vine show yesterday (yes, I'm sorry, I know that JV is a right PIA) . . this bloke spouted the most unbelievable bullshit.

    The show had several calls from people who were stuck on these trains, this director dismissed these as 'hearsay'.

    The show's resident lawyer rang in to point out that these were 'eye witness accounts' not hearsay and as such were permissible as evidence in a normal court of law.

    All in all I don't think Eurostar or Eurotunnel give a flying whatsit about their passengers. I know myself and the family suffered from the second major lorry fire closure about 3 years ago. This was after the 1st and would 'never happen again due to improved incident handling procedures'.

    All in all a right set of twunts.

  57. This post has been deleted by its author

  58. The elephant in the room
    Black Helicopters

    Under Siege 3: Under the Channel

    I mean really, this whole idea of melting snow shorting the electronics is doubtful - that would mean the trains wouldnt work in the rain either.

    What really happened was the secret services got a tip-off that there were terrorists with a nuke on the Eurostar. So they stopped the trains in the tunnel, reasoning that if they couldnt do something about it it would be preferable for it to detonate under the sea bed rather than in a populated area. Out of the 5 trains, the1st, 2nd & 3rd were just normal trains full of irate passengers unaware of the real situation, to provide a cover story for the media once they were extracted. Having hung around to report on 3 lots of trains and collect more than enough soundbites about how it was a disgrace and that Brunel was turning in his grave, the media would be bored and go home. The 4th train had the nuke on it, but the terrorists hadn't counted on one man on a (rail-based) booze cruise:

    Casey Ryback.

    Setting his facial expression to "Concerned" he did what he does. The 5th train was full of special forces and bomb technicians, who arrived just too late to see Ryback roundhouse kick the lead terrorist into a crate of smashed Absinthe bottles, dying just slowly enough to hear Ryback quip "This service terminates here - Take a replacement bus to hell" as he flicks a cigarette to ignite the alcohol. Then Erika Eleniak pops out of a big gateau and we see her boobs. Fin.

  59. Anonymous Coward

    Eurostar board not fit for purpose?

    A closer look at the Eurostar board may offer clues as to how this farce came about.


    There's a Chairman and CEO as you'd expect, plus Legal, HR, Finance, Commercial, Communications and Customer Service directors. What we don't have is a Chief Engineer, Director of Engineering or anyone that comes close to being directly responsible for the technical and engineering aspects of running this transport business. Not even the Chief Operating Officer has a technical background - coming instead from Marketing and Customer Services roles.

    It seems clear that this top team exists solely to maximise revenue for its stakeholders and any dissenting voices that could raise potentially expensive inconvenient truths (such ineffective train wintering protection or emergency evacuation plans not being fit for purpose) are kept well in the background - presumably to be replaced by insurance covering against all "unprecedented" events.

    A modern business model probably taught on all the best MBA courses.

  60. Owen Carter

    warm air.

    You say that Eurotunnel are 'choosing' (your words) to use warm air in the tunnels.

    They either use the ambient air temperature in the tunnels; which is over 30C -without- trains (the trains have megawatt class energy consumption) adding even more heat. Or at least it was In 1993, the last time I was walking around down there. It's warm underground; just ask miners and tunnelers, this is a 'well known fact' (tm).

    Or, I suppose, they could -choose- to try and aircon the whole tunnel, yeah.. that would reduce ticket prices and save the planet at a stroke.

    Note. Trains do not push air 'through' the tunnel, that would waste huge amounts of energy in friction with the tunnel walls. Instead air passes around the trains in a much shorter loop using the service tunnel and special automatic vent systems between that and the running tunnels.

    Also: There can be up to 10 trains in the tunnel at any one time. Trains are passed through in batches. Trains approaching the tunnel entrance need a good few KM to stop. There are only two sets of crossover points and these take time to open/close because they have BIG security/safety doors separating the tunnels. In short.. five all getting stuck together at once is extreme but not improbable or deliberate.

    The real issue is why their electrical systems were so poorly insulated against water ingress, and why this had not been noticed and corrected in the 15 years leading up to this; I'd be willing to bet there have been some indications that water/snow was getting into the works before now.

    But of course, a real engineer would have worked all that out and written a better article than this. And a real journalist would have researched it better; but a troll would just make a story up anyway out of half-truths and misinformation. Sorry; but that's how it looks to me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Once again, correct!

      The issue about poor insulation is something that needs to be asked of the OEM - Alstom.

      Alstom built the trains before the service commenced, basing them off their successful TGV model. The only thing I can think of is that SNCF does not have 30-mile long tunnels on their LGVs that they send their services on, or, if they do, have managed to come up with a solution but simply not shared it with the competition (i.e. Eurostar).

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Steven Jones

    "No doubt mistakes were made, but the beauty of being a journalist (or a commentator for that matter) is that you can pass judgement on others safe in the knowledge that you won't ever get called upon to manage situations like this in real life with all the complexities, pressure, confusion and constraints that apply."

    It's not about "passing judgement". It's about people who take on the jobs of running railways who then fail to deliver. If you can't cut it, go and find something else to do.

    I've seen enough of the railways, that I only use them when I'm drunk or going into London. The car does a more reliable and cheaper job.

  62. jon 77


    So why do they *need* to use warm air in the tunnel??? to say nothing about power/co2 wastage, etc....

    Surely if external *cold* air was used, there would have been no problems??? I'm sure the workers have all their cold weather gear on for outside work, why should the chunnel be different??

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Have you ever been underground?

      It's not that the Channel Tunnel uses warm air out of necessity. It is because the earth is warm, and it occurs naturally. Ask any miner - The deeper they go, the hotter it gets. And yes, the bedrock that the tunnel runs through is fairly deep already and dissipates heat into the nearest space that makes a temperature differential - the tunnel.

      The tunnel is well-ventilated, well-drained, and by doing so, the differential will continue to exist. Additionally, the air in the tunnel is rotated/moved by train movement, and the minute that stops, the air stops moving (other than what is moved by extraction) and starts warming up to ambient temperature (in the tunnel its around 30 degrees). And anything in the tunnel will warm up to the same ambient temperature, so the trains warm up as well.

      So a freezing cold train entering a warm, moist atmosphere will cause immediate condensation, and once that stops, the moisture will evaporate again where it can.

  63. Poor Coco

    @ AC 11:36

    The tracks are 32 miles each, that's just over 50 km, so sixty blocks would be 860 metres long or so. Sounds like about 1 km to me..... and hardly a 'daft' figure.

  64. James Dunmore

    2 engines

    Please, correct me if I'm wrong - but on the Eurostar, there is an engine at the front and at the back? Surely both can't of failed in exactly the same way (for a start, the venting would be around the other way, and the bit at the back would have had all the debris blown away by the rest of the train?).

    So, erm, couldn't they just fire it up and go backwards?!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Let me correct you then...

      ... It's not the ingress of snow that's the problem. It's the ambient humidity of the tunnel against the ambient temperature of the train's exposed parts (power car, electric equipment, etc which is air cooled) - In the freezing temperatures in France/Belgium, the outer skin and anything exposed to the cold air at 300 kph will chill down to the ambient temperature outside. When it hits the warm (25C) and humid air of the tunnel, it causes condensation. Add to it any snow that may have been able to pass through the snow barriers that are fitted, and that snow melts, you suddenly have electric equipment that shouldn't be wet, but is.

      Water + electricity = short circuits. Short circuits = train stops until short circuit goes away by drying the water off. So both power cars would definitely be affected, regardless of their orientation.

  65. Andy Enderby 1

    Father Ted ?

    Sounds like the Tunnel of Goats at Craggy Islands theme park..... Goats might have worked out that sending in more trains was not a good idea.

  66. Richard Porter


    Thanks for that explanation. The article did look extremely amateurish.

    One aspect of the cab signalling system is that trains can run closer together at lower speeds. You can only get maximum capacity through the tunnel by running trains (pasenger, freight and shuttles) one behind another at more or less the same speed, so it is completely unrealistic to wait for one train to pop out the other end before allowing the next one to enter.

    Incidentally the tunnel has forced ventillation (as you would expect) but it is not pressurised as there is nothing to seal the ends.

    Btw didn't L&CR get taken over by the DfT in preparation for privatisation?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Cramming more badgers in the tunnel...

      Because we're all nerds here...

      Trains can indeed run closer together at lower speed - this is not a factor of in-cab signalling though per se, it's a factor of signal block length.

      The speed limit in the tunnel is relatively low - something like 100mph; the signal blocks inside the tunnel are therefore shorter inside the tunnel than on the high-speed sections, because the stopping distances are lower, and so trains run closer together.

      You get the same effect with good old fashioned signalling - one place where it's incredibly obvious is on the London tube. Because trains slow down and stop at stations, the signal blocks get progressively shorter (and the speed limit correspondingly lower) the closer you get to a tube station, and then longer as you move away from it (so the longest block will be in the middle between the two stations.) This allows them to cram more trains in the tunnels.

      The 'incredibly obvious' part is this: It means trains have to slow down to a near crawl or stop at a tube station even if the station is closed - so if you're wondering why your Victoria line train at the weekend still stops at Warren Street even though they've closed the station, it's because the signal blocks are as short as possible around the station to cram as many trains onto the track, and short signal blocks means speed limits - something like 5MPH within the station I think.

  67. John Hughes
    Thumb Up

    The met office are wrong

    It was very, very fluffy snow. Very fluffy indeed.

  68. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    @Anonymous Coward (14:27)

    "It's not about "passing judgement". It's about people who take on the jobs of running railways who then fail to deliver. If you can't cut it, go and find something else to do."

    So running it just fine for 15 years doesn't count? Newsflash: this is the FIRST time a Eurostar train—as opposed to an HGV shuttle—has EVER failed completely in the Channel Tunnel. Ever. Since 1994.

    As trains are timed to go through the Channel Tunnel (known as "flighting"), with each batch squeezed between the Le Shuttle services, the fact that five trains (all from the French side), failed in quick succession isn't actually all that surprising. Having just driven to Italy from London over the weekend, I can personally attest to the near-blizzard conditions I drove through on the French side. (And the *five hours* of tailbacks on the A2 into Dover on the English side, come to that.)

    The Eurostar trains, contrary to the ill-informed media, are NOT "cutting edge" they're based on 1980s TGV technology. Back then the French TGV network had a notable lack of 31-mile-long, deep and rather warm undersea tunnels. They use seawater pumped through the tunnels to reduce the heat in the tunnels, so they're well aware of the heat issues. Given that the UK and France weren't known for their arctic weather at the time the line was built—rain, yes; long periods of sub-zero temperatures with heavy blizzards? Not so much—it's unfair to claim that they should have predicted this perfect storm of events.

    After all, it's not as if England's entire road and rail infrastructure doesn't shut down completely the moment a centimetre of snow drifts onto our roads and railways, is it? Oh, that's right: it does!

    As another chap pointed out earlier: shit happens. We're not perfect, and neither is our technology. If you think rail is a terrible way to cross the Channel, by all means tell that to the survivors of the "Herald of Free Enterprise". (And the umpteen airplane crashes over the years too.)

    Nothing's perfect. Deal with it and stop whining.

  69. Anonymous Coward


    It wos the Al-Qaeda snowball battalion pelting the train with snowballs that dun it!

    The fiends!!

    <parks Humvee - draws gun>

  70. Pawel 1

    Fluffy snow?

    dust off your physics textbooks:

    Hot air can accommodate higher partial pressure of water vapour than cold air. So on such a cold day as that, I bet that a few electronic boards in the train were rather cool. Which means that when entering a tunnel with warm air, the gaseous water in the air (which likely had low relative humidity - but probably not low enough that it would prevent condensation as various electronic had low enough temperature that the saturation humidity near it was lower that the absolute humidity of the air blown to the tunnel). And condensation on electronic boards causes a hell lot of problems, big part of which are permanent and re-setting the circuits won't fix them.

    Arguments about fluffy snow not being removed effectively sound silly - I doubt that intense rain can't penetrate into the train parts that the snow could when melted (thus they are probably fairly well protected), and any short circuiting of the 3kV lines used for powering the trains would result in a big spark, immediately vapourising the water; all of the train systems are protected against such sparks as they are fairly common (when starting up the train, when switching tracks, etc, etc).

    Conclusion: Eurostar is talking shit and putting bigger, better snow screens is not likely to help in similar circumstances. Employing people who aren't idiots and won't use the 'hot' setting on the air blower during such a cold day will most definitely help.

  71. Dale 3

    Five stalled trains

    Maybe all five trains had entered the tunnel before the first one stalled? DUH!

    They don't wait for each train to come out the other end before sending the next one in, you know. Eurostar screwed up royally in its response, but Mr Mellor's commentary might also benefit from a little application of thought.

  72. Paul RND*1000


    Since one loco pulled two joined trains out, I wonder if they couldn't have just put a diesel loco or two at each end of the mess, carefully joined the 5 stalled trains together end-to-end and push-pulled the whole lot (slowly) home to Blighty?

    There's probably a good reason why not, I know (I'm not enough of an anorak to know if that's really feasible) but it seems just as likely given all the other apparent failings that it simply never occurred to them to try it.

  73. Graham Bartlett

    @ "Stop whining" comments

    Whilst the article does seem to be under-researched, I don't think "stop whining" is appropriate.

    If a plane was designed to survive loss of one engine; but it eats a flock of geese which was something that couldn't reasonably be prevented; and the pilot manages to ditch safely through great flying; and the cabin crew ensure the passengers are all out safely; and safety staff are onsite ASAP to rescue you: then yes, "stop whining" is appropriate.

    But when the train stops through a simple failure to properly waterproof the electrics, that's negligence. When the staff on the trains make no effort to protect their passengers but instead deliberately barricade themselves away, that's negligence. When there's no basic provision for passenger health in the event of an accident (up to 16 hours in 30-degC heat with no water supply is unacceptable), that's negligence. When there's no adequate rescue plan in the event of an accident, that's negligence. Just *one* of these things working would have made "stop whining" appropriate, because people would have been in a situation where they knew they could survive until help arrived. But no, every possible cockup was managed, and not a single one can be blamed on outside influences.

    Even the blame on the snow doesn't hold true. So fine snow gets through the grilles, does it Mr Eurostar? Tell me, why doesn't fine rain also get through the grilles? Answer: of course it does. So the trains have been at constant risk of shorting out through water ingress since their design, and it's only luck that it's not happened more. Almost certainly, they've relied on the engine heat evaporating any incoming water before it gets too far in, so the cause is quite simply negligent design. Even a moderate IP rating on the electrics would have completely prevented this.

  74. Stevie


    "There can be only one explanation?"

    Not so. There's yours, and there's the more likely one that Chunnel Trainz Am Uz simply lifted a page from the playbook of the Long Island Rail Road, which has a standard operating practice of driving perfectly good trains up tp badly crippled ones, then saying "oops, we need to back up. No wait, That'll take twenty minutes to organize. We'll just wait. No, we'll be here all night if we do, so backing up it is. Except: No! But Yes! Wait, the broken train has rusted away leaving the path clear. Funny how the time flies when you're a bunch of brainless tw*ts with zero capacity to learn from previous fiascoes innit?"

  75. Stevie


    "There can be only one explanation?"

    Not so. There's yours, and there's the more likely one that Chunnel Trainz Am Uz simply lifted a page from the playbook of the Long Island Rail Road, which has a standard operating practice of driving perfectly good trains up to badly crippled ones, then saying "oops, we need to back up. No wait, That'll take twenty minutes to organize. We'll just wait. No, we'll be here all night if we do, so backing up it is. Except: No! But Yes! Wait, the broken train has rusted away leaving the path clear. Funny how the time flies when you're a bunch of brainless tw*ts with zero capacity to learn from previous fiascoes innit?"

  76. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fluffy Snow

    What I want to know is how the UK can identify how fluffy the snow is (or not) in northern France!

    The UK weather radar network doesn't extend to France, and even if it did, the radars are basic reflectivity types which can't distinguishe between the different types of precipitation (rain, hail, snow) let alone be able to distinguish between different grades of a single type of precipitation.

    Perhaps some other method was used...

  77. Alan Firminger


    In 1991 blocking failed in the Severn Tunnel. One train smashed into the tail of another and the result was carnage, with many people injured.

    BR failed to understand what had happened, it went to the wrong place and took hours to reach the scene. There was an enquiry of course which instructed never again.

    It appears that Eurotunnel similarly don't know where their trains are.

  78. Tim Baldwin

    Ventilation and cooling

    Some errors there, the rail tunnels are not pressurised, it is the service tunnel that is pressurised, to stop smoke from burning trains from getting in. Except from leakage from the service tunnels the rail tunnels are not normally ventilated by fans, but fans are available for emergency use. The rail tunnels are cooled by chilled water running in pipes.

    In no way is the tunnel purposefully heated.

  79. raving angry loony

    flogging is too good for them.

    In the mid 90's Eurostar once stranded me in London while I was living in Paris when they cancelled the trains. Did they arrange for alternative transportation? Fuck no! I was basically told I was on my own. Did they, in any way, attempt or help me get back home? Not at all. When I went to the "office" (a table in a hallway) they had set up to "help" the stranded passengers, I was given a hand-scrawled phone number on a piece of paper, purportedly to an alternative. It turns out they'd given me a wrong number. Did they refund the ticket? They tried not to, and then did it very reluctantly (and after making me jump through muliple stupid hoops).

    It took me 21 hours to get home to Paris. Only later did I find out there WERE quicker alternatives at the time, but I didn't know about them and Eurostar hadn't bothered to mention them at all.

    Eurostar are nothing but a bunch of incompetent c****s who shouldn't be allowed to play with toy trains, let alone real ones. I say flog the entire senior executive, fire the middle management with prejudice (preferably by firing squad) and just let the rest of the incompetent, self-absorbed wastrels go. It's long past due, and I hope this particular incident crystallises the need to do it.

    What will probably happen is some hapless scapegoat will be publicly humiliated and the rest of the useless bastards actually responsible for the complete lack of planning or knowledge responsible for this fiasco will continue on with their jobs.

  80. Richard Porter

    @AC 17:46

    I wasn't sure whether the tunnel/HS1/LGV Nord used fixed blocks with in-cab displays or moving block signalling. Either way there are no lineside signals.

  81. Tom 66

    Eurostar Structure

    "Maybe all five trains had entered the tunnel before the first one stalled? DUH!"

    Something the author of the original article should have done was to estimate the actual length of time between the first train breaking down and the last train entering the tunnel, taking the perfectly sensible assumption that in order to get five trains into the tunnel the first must have got quite a long way through before expiring. I wouldn't be surprised if the time taken to get five trains beyond the point of no return was shorter than the delay loop in ascertaining a) that there was a problem and b) that it wasn't just related to a single train.

    However, Eurostar do deserve a bucket of shit for this one, but for the passenger care response, not so much the railway operational side - in any case they're not actually a railway operator, they contract out the management of the service to an outfit called InterCapital and Regional Rail, in which the largest partner is National Express, along with SNCF, SNCB and British Airways. This explains why the Eurostar Board is full of people who are employed to run contracts and sales and marketing, not trains. Mind you, I'm not sure this multiplicity of entities is necessarily a great way to run a railroad, the only thing going for it is that it's not as mental as the original structure.

  82. Magani

    Why keep sending trains in?

    Same reason that users keep sending the same print job to a printer when the first one failed to print.

  83. Winkypop Silver badge

    Plenty of room for more...

    ....please move up the tunnel.

  84. jon 77

    Thanks SP.... :)

    didnt realize it was 'normally' 30 degrees.. but as said, WTH did they not properly insulate problem areas??? and also install some decent de-humidfiers???

    I am with Graham Bartlett - It sound too much like cost-cutting, ancient principle of NOTwork Rail, the staff knows its crap, so hide away from passengers, to avoid being accused by bosses of whatever....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      IT Angle

      IT nerds criticising the railways

      Most people who read the Reg work in IT.

      Which is why I find these sorts of criticisms so deliciously amusing.

      Because we all know everything the world of IT produces is 100% reliable, and 100% bug free. Anything else is a result of cost-cutting and incompetence, right?

      Christ. Most IT projects I've known would consider 1 bug found in 15 years to be on the 'reasonably good' side of the reliability line...

  85. Tim Walls 1

    The real reason there were five trains in the tunnels

    I put a bit of thought into this - unlike the article author - and the reason for five trains to be in the tunnels is blindingly obvious.

    There are 6 signal levels on the LGV signalling system because in 'normal service braking' it takes six blocks for the train to slow to a halt.

    Train one enters the tunnel - lets say it immediately develops a fault.

    The driver will presumably not immediately 'drop anchor' and apply the emergency brake, because then you end up with passengers attached to the front of each coach, which is unpopular. Getting someone's luggage in the back of your head as it flies of the racks is also not a good customer service experience.

    So he will brake at normal service levels - meaning he finishes up 6 blocks into the tunnel.

    The train immediately behind him is 6 blocks away (standard separation so they can all run at maximum speed.) As the train in front slows down, the train behind will start to see reduced speed indications on his signalling, and he will slow down until he eventually he hits a target speed of 0 (i.e. a 'red signal') in the block immediately behind the broken down train.

    Again, there is no reason why this driver would throw on the emergency brake, he will slow to a halt at normal service braking levels.

    The train behind him will do the same thing, and eventually come to a halt immediately behind that train.

    And so on, and so on... Until you have a train in the first five or six blocks of the tunnel.

    The author of this article appears to think what should have happened is that instead of all the trains involved coming to a halt safely at normal service braking, as soon as the first train failed there should have been some kind of APB broadcast so every train on the network applied its emergency brakes.

    Which one the one hand would mean fewer people trapped in a tunnel.

    But on the other, would leave quite a lot of people injured.

    Not the brightest way to run a railway, that...

  86. Badbob

    Class 92s?

    Eurotunnel, or rather their open access freight subsidiary Europorte 2, have several ex-BR Class 92 Electric locomotives (which ironically they bought from Eurostar). These locomotives are the only electric locomotive cleared for operations in the UK, Channel Tunnel and France (several are also owned by SNCF, though these are leased to DB in the UK).

    Why was this fleet not utilised to tow the Eurostars to St. Pancras? I don't believe they currently have the correct signalling equipment for the CTRL (which is being retrofitted), but they do have 3rd rail collection equipment, and could have towed the Eurostars to another suitable London terminus, or even to Ashford where another (working) Eurostar unit could have forwarded the passengers to London.

    Also, while EUKL's parent company own's the CTRL, it is actually maintained and operated by Network Rail (CTRL) Limited, and is signalled from Ashford IECC. So Eurostar do not control the signalling of their trains at any point during their journey.

  87. Aging Hippy
    Big Brother

    Blame accountants or climate botherers

    It's a long time since I worked on control systems for trains but the general principle was to design for normal industrial conditions (0-50C with no condensation) then to provide that enviroment with suitable boxes and heaters.

    To start a train from below freezing the heaters would be switched on to bring the electronics into its operating range and heat the surrounding air, and then the electronics could be switched on. To avoid a delay in starting up the heaters or electronics would normally be left switched on.

    Then along comes an accountant or climate botherer and says they can save money / carbon dioxide and decrees that trains should be switched off completely overnight. Then on the first morning with the right conditions .........

    It's only speculation but from what I've seen it fits.

    Time for an investment in the B Ark.

  88. Cortland Richmond

    "Coach" Motel

    To paraphrase the US pest control co's advert:

    Coaches check in

    But they don't check out.

  89. pmktwo22

    choo-choo chaos

    Excellent article

    Errors always reveal shortcomings

    Fortunately this "error" didn't create the largest accident in railroad history

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