03 March 2010

Eurostar's Independent Report

During last month, Christopher Garnet's independent review into the Eurostar chaos over the Christmas period was published. The 89-page document can be viewed by clicking on the link at the end of this post. Eurostar should hang their heads in shame. The conclusions reached by a very experienced railwayman, concerning the way in which the firm acted, are comprehensively damming - and cast very poor light on Eurotunnel's handling of the situation, too.

The basics surrounding the cancellation of all cross-Channel services from 18 December has been well documented. For those who'd like it summarising, here goes:

9157: 1859 Brussels-London, 679 pax
The train failed as it attempted to climb out of the Channel Tunnel at 2100; the two Krupps rescue vehicles on the England side were sent to rescue it; the train arrived at St. Pancras at 0045.

9053: 1843 Paris-London, 700 pax
The train was delayed due to the first breakdown, entering the Tunnel at 2205 and failed; passengers were evacuated onto a replacement Eurostar train (9088) by 0249 to Folkstone and onto another Eurostar train to St. Pancras by 0856 the following morning.

9057: 1937 Disneyland Paris-London, 664 pax
The train came to a halt behind the two broken-down trains in front, and in so doing also failed; an attempt was made to return it to France but by 0041 this was abandoned; a replacement Eurostar train (9096) was dispatched and passengers transferred though a change onto another Eurostar took place at Folkstone, with arrival at St. Pancras by 1153.

9055: 1913 Paris-London, 639 pax
9059: 2013 Paris-London, 630 pax
After entering the Tunnel, 9055 became the fourth London-bound train to fail, though after crossing over onto the French-bound side. Soon to follow was 9059, which failed at 0008, though did manage to cross over onto the French-bound side, resting behind 9055. A decision was made to couple both trains together and the two French Krupps locos propelled both trains to Folkstone by 0443. 9055's passengers were moved onto another Eurostar train and taken to London, while 9059's passengers moved onto 9055 and arrived in London at 1415.

Clearly, the duration many passengers endured was horrendous. We speculated recently that while these passengers may have been frustrated and anxious, at least they got to their destination for Christmas, and received the most handsome compensation of all affected passengers. We wholeheartedly retract this opinion. Our minds were changed after we read the following:

"During this period [on train 9157 ex Disneyland], the toilet facilities quickly became unpleasant. There were only 10 toilets – six in the single shuttle and four on the lower deck of the double deck shuttle. Although Eurotunnel provided some additional toilet paper, they did not clean or empty the toilets, which were overflowing. This led to passengers designating one carriage as an open toilet area."

Having to designate a carriage as an 'open toilet area' is a statement that neither of us will ever forget reading, nor will those on the train ever forget happening. So ill-prepared were Eurostar that the provision for adequate toilet facilities wasn't considered.

The report also categorically states that the condensation of fine snow within the engine's motor blocks was NOT the cause of the failure, completely at odds with Eurostar Chief Executive Richard Brown's statements up until then. Dry, powdery snow was the root cause, which was directly entering the engines. The snow wasn't the wrong type, it was the lack of care in - or in some cases the complete failure to undertake - 'winterisation' of the Class 373 power cars that was to blame.

As the report states: "There is absolutely no doubt that these incidents were caused by a large quantity of fine snow entering the power cars and being sucked through the ventilation system."

It was identified that some power cars had absolutely no 'winterisation' carried out at all. Generally, this would mean the installation of snow screens, renewing door seals and ensuring roofs were tight. In the case of train 9157 none of this had been carried out, the roofs were cracked and 'large quantities of snow' came pouring in through the doors.

Fifty-six recommendations have been made, under an umbrella of 21 categories. A few are below:
  • A thorough review of winter incidents is called for
  • A full review of the design of the train roofs
  • The introduction of video links between trains and control centres either side of the Channel
  • Communication with drivers while they are in the Tunnel
  • A better rehearsed evacuation procedure while in the Tunnel
  • Stress-management training to be given to Train Managers
  • SNCF to allow Eurostar staff access to its control centre in future
  • During emergencies, customer services to remain open 24/7 (St. Pancras customer services closed overnight and the booking office closed)
  • (our favourite) "We recommend that Eurostar should agree with SNCF that
    as a general rule trains should not be left in the middle of the countryside or in a small station overnight."
An interesting point raised is that the British Train Manager has undergone train driving duties and can accordingly assist the driver if needed; located in the rear half of the train, he can drive this section in the opposite direction to safety. Yet the French Train Manager doesn't have such advanced training; instead, all he or she has is 'additional English language training'. Surely the qualifications need bringing in line?

One final point for consideration is that currently Eurostar has no policy to reunite people with their luggage should an emergency evacuation take place and the luggage need to remain on board. Frightening.

Finally, can you honestly believe that in this day and age no member of staff aboard a Eurostar train is issued with a high-visibility jacket? This little nugget (p67) astounded me almost as much as a carriage on a Shuttle being designated a water closet! Everyone has high-vis jackets in the transport industry. From bus depot managers, who never wander into at-risk areas, to train drivers, Network Rail staff and even my next door neighbour when she takes her dog out for a walk. To me, this truly demonstrates just how behind the times Eurostar is! It's very pleasing to note that issuing Train Managers with hi-vis jackets is one of Christopher Garnett's recommendations. Using this as one of the foundations on which to build, things can only improve.

The full report into Eurostar's catalogue of failures over Christmas 2009.

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