Eurostar Focuses on Crowd Control After Christmas Travel Chaos

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Nicolas Petrovic, Eurostar Group Ltd.’s chief executive officer, said the train operator will focus on how it deals with stranded passengers to avoid a repeat of the chaos that followed last month’s heavy snowfall.

A line of passengers snaked 600 meters (2,000 feet) around London’s St. Pancras station in the week before Christmas as travelers scrambled to get on trains after Eurostar was forced to scrap services in December due to severe winter weather.

“The queues were well organized. There was food, there were drinks, people had the information, but still we would like to avoid the queue at all,” Petrovic, who took over as CEO last April, said in an interview in London. It took 24 hours to implement a new passenger plan and a further 12 hours for the backlog to clear after that, he said.

To reduce disruption, Eurostar must improve its direct contact with customers via e-mail to tell them when to come to the station and how to check-in before they arrive at the station, the CEO said Jan. 14.

The delays came after five Eurostar trains broke down, trapping 2,000 people for 18 hours in the Channel Tunnel in December 2009, and stranding as many as 90,000 passengers in Paris, Brussels and London. The breakdown was caused by snow penetrating into electrical systems through worn-out seals.

Petrovic, who succeeded Richard Brown after he became chairman, said Eurostar’s trains coped better with snow and ice this winter. The operator pledged to spend 30 million pounds ($48 million) to improve the “resilience” of its trains, including 12 million pounds on a new communications system inside the tunnel, after the 2009 incident.

Eurostar carried about 90 percent of its passengers during the most recent period of disruption, the CEO said.

“The trains ran well during the snow, there were delays but they were more due to the speed restrictions we had to put in place,” said Petrovic. “The trains handled the very severe weather very well.”

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