The report of the independent review into the debacle
suffered by Eurostar and its passengers in December makes grim reading.
Conditions in the trains which were stuck in the tunnel for many hours
were appalling, and all trains were cancelled for three days, disrupting
the travel plans of almost 100,000 people.
The report demands an urgent review of evacuation procedures and made a
number of technical recommendations to ensure that Eurostar trains do
not suffer the same breakdowns in future.
Its recommendations include improved rolling stock, a better evacuation
plan and vastly improved communication.
Eurostar promised to implement all 21 recommendations made by the
review. They have pledged £18 million to equip trains for severe weather
and improve passenger care and £12 million to provide a new
communication system inside the tunnel.
One element of reassurance came from the review’s finding that
evacuations were carried out safely and there was no indication that if
there had been a fire people would not have been able to get off the
trains very quickly.
After events of this kind we are always told that lessons have been
learned. I hope they have been.
But my experience last Thursday does not make me wholly optimistic.
Admittedly this had nothing to do with Eurostar. But it did involve
communication which should not be the most difficult thing to get right.
I arrived at St Pancras in good time to catch a train to Folkestone so
that I could attend the funeral of Rifleman Peter Aldridge, who gave his
life so heroically in Afghanistan. All the indicators at the station
indicated that the train would leave on time. They were not changed even
when an announcement was made that the train would not arrive at St
Pancras until 40 minutes after it was supposed to have left.
It must be possible to do better and I shall be taking this up with
Southeastern Trains. And I hope they don’t blame the snow!
That, of course, was why the trains ran late. It is no excuse for the
failure to communicate properly with passengers.