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Snow Forces Eurostar Cancellations, Evoking Last Winter’s Chaos

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Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Snow storms in southern Britain led Eurostar Group Ltd. to cancel six trains through the Channel Tunnel, less than a year after the failure of locomotives in a blizzard led the company’s chief executive officer to step down.

Eurostar scrapped four services between London and Paris and two between the U.K. capital and Brussels, citing speed restrictions imposed because of the snowfall. Customers who still wish to travel will be accommodated on the next train where seats are available and remaining services will run about half an hour late, according to the company’s website.

“If the situation deteriorates it may be that we need to cancel a few more services,” spokesman Leigh Calder said, adding that Eurostar has spent 30 million pounds ($47 million) since last winter to upgrade its trains and improve customer communications in the Channel Tunnel in the event of delays.

Britain is experiencing the earliest widespread snow since 1993, with blizzards that began in Scotland last month extending to southeast England yesterday. Eurostar was the highest-profile casualty of last winter’s cold snap, the U.K.’s longest since 1981, in which more than a foot of snow cloaked the country. Five trains carrying 2,000 passengers were trapped in the tunnel on Dec. 18 after snow disabled their electrics, with 90,000 more stranded at stations. The system failed again on Jan. 7.

‘Lessons Learned’

“We have invested a huge amount of money over the course of the year to make our trains snow-ready,” Calder said. “We know we let our customers down last year and we have learnt lessons.”

Today’s cancellations are the result of “precautionary” speed restrictions in the U.K. and northern France that are necessary to ensure all remaining trains can operate, he said.

The company has scrapped the 6:59 a.m. Brussels-London service and the 5:27 p.m. trip in the opposite direction, together with the 7:27 a.m. and 4:55 p.m. London-Paris trains and the 9:13 a.m. and 6:43 p.m. Paris-London legs.

Passengers scheduled to travel on cancelled trains are eligible for a full refund and those who can’t make it to the station for trains that are running will be able to swap their tickets for travel at a later date, according to Eurostar.

A report into last winter’s breakdown said Eurostar’s 186-mile-an-hour (300 kmph) locomotives were insufficiently prepared for cold weather and that the company had neglected maintenance of seals that allowed snow to penetrate electrical systems.

Eurostar’s procedures for evacuating people from the tunnel were also inadequate and it failed to communicate sufficiently with customers stranded at stations, according to the study, compiled by Christopher Garnett, former CEO of U.K. rail company GNER, and French government transport official Claude Gressier.

Eurostar chief Richard Brown said he accepted the findings and left the top job to focus on implementing the review’s recommendations before taking over as chairman. Chief Operating Officer Nicolas Petrovic became CEO.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven Rothwell in London at srothwell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net

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