Another Train Crisis Hits Eurostar

Eurostar Group Ltd. suspended services today after a train broke down in the Channel Tunnel, echoing a series of failures last month that crippled the company's locomotives and left 40,000 passengers stranded.

A train carrying 236 people lost traction in the tunnel this morning after encountering cold weather in northern France while en route from Brussels to London, said Fabienne Lissak, a spokeswoman for tunnel operator Groupe Eurotunnel SA.

Two southbound trains and a northbound one were brought to a standstill after the failure and were later turned back from the tunnel to avoid any repetition of last month's breakdowns, in which higher temperatures encountered underground melted snow sucked in by Eurostar locomotives, shorting electrical circuits.

"The trains were at a standstill for two or three hours and were turned back as a precaution," Eurostar spokesman Richard Holligan said in a telephone interview. "We're still running tests on the train that failed, but it's not the same as last time and we're confident that no snow was ingested."

Eurostar yesterday trimmed four services from today's timetable to help cope with the icy weather and following the breakdown it scrapped the last five scheduled trains. Services may operate to a restricted timetable for the next few days.

Dragged OutThe train that failed, Eurostar service number 9113, had departed Brussels as planned at 8:05 a.m. local time. After the unit broke down it was dragged from the tunnel by a Eurotunnel rescue locomotive at 11:17 a.m. U.K. time and taken forward to Ashford, east of the London, where passengers changed trains.

Eurotunnel's own vehicle-shuttle services through the 30- mile (48-kilometer) tunnel were delayed by the incident but later operated normally, Lissak said in a telephone interview.

Several inches of snow fell at the tunnel's French portal near Calais and the breakdown was similar to those on Dec. 18, she said. Holligan said that there were a number of possible explanations for the incident, but that improved snow shields and screens added in recent weeks had done their job.

Last month's failures left 2,000 people stuck for more than 10 hours in the tunnel, stranded tens of thousands more in London, Paris and Brussels and resulted in a three-day shutdown during the peak pre-Christmas travel period through Dec. 22.

Eurostar spokesman Amelle Mouhaddib reiterated today that people should avoid using the service for the moment unless their journeys are vital.

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