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February 26, 2024

Eurostar Cancels Trains Due to Flooded Tunnels, Stranding Hundreds

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Dec 31, 2023

Eurostar, the high-speed passenger rail service connecting the UK with mainland Europe, has been forced to cancel all trains on the weekend before New Year’s eve due to flooding in the tunnels under the English Channel. Hundreds of passengers have been left stranded in London and Paris as the major rail hub of St Pancras descends into travel chaos.

Timeline of Events

The crisis unfolded on Saturday December 30th when Eurostar announced it was suspending all services due to water infiltration in the Channel Tunnel. The tunnel operator Getlink reported flooding in the tunnel tracks due to unprecedented rainfall.

This led to the cancellation of all passenger trains by Eurostar for the rest of Saturday. Initial hopes that services would resume on Sunday were dashed when further cancellations were announced later in the day amidst continuing tunnel access issues. By Sunday morning Eurostar said no trains would run that day either.

Key Events Timeline

Time Event
Saturday 8:24am Eurostar tweets train services suspended due to water infiltration in the Channel Tunnel
Saturday 4pm Eurostar cancels all remaining departures from London and Paris for the rest of the day
Saturday 5:30pm Eurostar announces no trains will run on Sunday either
Sunday 11am Eurostar provides update that no trains will run Sunday, aiming to resume Monday

This tunnel flooding and subsequent suspension of Eurostar trains could not have come at a worse time – on New Year’s Eve weekend which sees a surge in cross-channel demand from holiday travelers.

The UK is also grappling with a national rail strike and extreme winter weather which has battered transportation infrastructure. Southeastern Railway similarly announced cancelations due to flooding in other UK tunnels it relies on.

Scenes of Chaos at London St Pancras Station

The wave of Eurostar cancelations has led to chaotic scenes at London St Pancras station as hundreds of passengers turn up with tickets in hand only to find their trains cancelled indefinitely.

Photos emerging on social media showed crowds overflowing the station concourse on Saturday evening with snaking customer service lines and departure boards flooded with cancellations.

The strain on Eurostar staff to handle the swelling crowds was evident, with many passengers left frustrated and stranded for hours without accommodation or travel options.

Sarah Jensen, on her way to Paris with friends, described the feeling of chaos to reporters: “The queues are insane, there’s zero organization, and they can’t help us with hotels or transfers or anything else”.

By Sunday the crowds had not abated, despite Eurostar tweeting for passengers not to arrive at the station. Scenes of upset families with small children and luggage piled high have drawn public complaints over lack of support during the rail meltdown.

What Led to the Flooding Crisis?

Eurostar has stated the reason for suspending its full UK line of service is due to water infiltration in the Channel Tunnel tracks which makes running trains unsafe.

The Channel Tunnel is a 50km long rail tunnel running under the English Channel, connecting Folkestone in Kent with Coquelles near Calais. Through this tunnel, Eurostar trains travel at speeds up to 300 km/h between the UK and France/Belgium.

Operators Getlink reported “exceptional infiltration” of water into the tunnel overnight Friday into Saturday morning. They speculate this flooding most likely happened through cracks caused by shifts of chalk in the rocks lining the tunnel.

While tunnels flooding from cracks is extremely rare, the UK has faced exceptional amounts of winter rainfall through December likely exacerbating any tiny cracks. Kent has received double its average monthly rainfall already. On top of heavy rain, cold weather can also freeze and expand cracks.

Wintery Mix Cripples UK Transportation

This Channel Tunnel flooding could not have come at a worse junction for UK transportation with multiple crises crashing together:

  • Ongoing national rail strikes
  • Severe “snow bomb” winter storms
  • Holiday crowds surge

As Eurostar conduct full safety checks aiming to resume some services Monday, there is low confidence operations will return to normal soon.

The UK Met office has issued over 150 flood alerts and warnings signalling dangerous conditions persist. Southeastern Railway has also announced continued cancellations into Monday on routes inundated by flood waters.

With more foul weather on the horizon and infrastructure already strained, Eurostar’s shutdown may extend days longer leaving travelers stranded far from home right as the new year rings in.

Outlook: Gradual Rail Recovery but Lingering Disruption

Eurostar announced on Sunday it is working towards a gradual restart of train services on Monday January 1st after conducting full safety verification of the Channel Tunnel infrastructure overnight.

Engineers completed tunnel inspection and declared tracks safe for passage early Sunday morning. However the rail company says schedule resumption will be gradual as trains and crews must still be coordinated.

They aim to operate a limited Eurostar schedule Monday consisting primarily of trains already mid-journey when the crisis hit. New years day train tickets will also be honored Tuesday Jan 3rd for those still disrupted.

But UK transportation Secretary Mark Harper has warned Eurostar passengers to expect ongoing disruption and delays as services slowly resume. Flooding risks remain high going into New Years and infrastructure damage cannot be repaired overnight.

Additionally the national rail strike continues paralyzing parts of UK rail service. And Southeastern Railway has only restored partial commuter train functionality around London after flooding suspensions Saturday.

So while Eurostar escapes the worst case scenario of multi-day shutdown, rail travelers should brace for headaches from delayed trains, canceled connections, and overcrowding as systems restart. Weary travellers still stranded far from home can only hope the New Year brings smoother journeys.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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