Eurostar criticised for lack of crew training

12 Feb 2010 by Mark Caswell

Crews aboard Eurostar trains trapped in the channel tunnel during December’s adverse weather should have received better training, according to the independent review published today (February 12).

The review was led by Christopher Garnett,  former chief executive of GNER and former commercial director of Eurotunnel, along with Claude Gressier, board member of French Railways (SNCF).

“Crews found the experience very stressful,” said Garnett, “and train managers did not have direct contact with Eurostar, making it difficult for staff to advise passengers.”

“We recommend a lot more training for train crews, especially in evacuation measures and dealing with passengers.

“Rescue arrangements also need to be speeded up… they need more rescue trains.

“Passengers must not go through this experience again.”

The results of the review by the UK and French governments show Eurostar must improve its operations in terms of train reliability, evacuation and rescue, and communication.

A total of five trains were trapped in the channel tunnel. One particular train entered the tunnel at around 2230 on the evening of December 18, but passengers did not reach their destination until 0915 the following morning.

“This was the worst train that you could imagine,” said Garnett.

It was filled with families returning from Disneyland Paris. When the train broke down inside the tunnel it immediately lost air conditioning, ventilation and all lighting.

“While there were some lights on in the tunnel, people said they couldn’t see clearly. There was a rapid rise in temperature and people were getting worried.”
Panicked passengers started trying to open the doors to get some air, but the conditions inside the tunnel are extremely hot and humid – the temperature was 25?C, leaving passengers dehydrated.

At 0150 a rescue shuttle appeared and started offloading passengers, a process which took around two hours. The shuttle itself had “appalling” conditions, said Garnett, with insufficient toilets for the 670 people onboard, and confusing instructions on how passengers could get food and water.

It departed for Coquelles in France, where there was a further 90 minute wait before passengers eventually departed for England. They reached their destination at 0915, more than 12 hours since they had originally left.

Despite finding the evacuation had been carried out safely, the report said evacuation and rescue procedures need a major overhaul, with Eurostar criticised for not training its crews in how to deal with passengers during an evacuation.

But “this was taking place against a very difficult weather backdrop,” said Garnett.

“I don’t think anybody could have imagined we were going to get this number of issues all happening in the same night.”

The trains themselves need a number of engineering improvements before next winter, to avoid a repeat of this year’s disruptions. They had not undergone sufficient winter weather preparations to withstand these conditions and maintenance procedures need to be revised, said the report.

Eurostar has released its own statement in which the rail operator said it welcomed the review, and fully accepted it conclusions.

“The Review is thorough, detailed and gives a clear list of recommendations,” said Eurostar. “It is our intention to implement all of these recommendations as quickly as possible and over the next 18 months we will be investing more than £30 million to further improve passenger care during disruption, customer communication both inside and outside the Tunnel and the resilience of our trains during severe weather conditions.”

The operator said that improvements to its customer care and communication processes would include:

  • a 24/7 call centre operating during periods of disruption
  • regular SMS text messaging and email updates for customers
  • a more robust contingency plan to draft in extra staff during disruption
  • appointing a new Director of Business Service Continuity to take charge of the implementation of all these changes so they are carried out speedily and effectively

The full response from Eurostar’s CEO Richard Brown can be viewed below.

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Report by Sara Turner

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