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back to article Can anyone explain the chunnel fiasco?

During the weekend channel tunnel fiasco, Eurostar sent five trains into the tunnel and not one came out. Only then did it stop sending trains. Okay. Imagine you're Eurostar's fat controller in charge of despatching trains. Two have gone into the tunnel and not come out. Do you send in trains number three, four, and five? Not …

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Anonymous Coward

In other news...

... I was delayed by 2 hours on a 10 minute trip yesterday morning.

Snow happens, expect to be delayed when it does!!!

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JWS
FAIL

No surprises then!

None of this surprises me in the slightest, lack of proper scenario testing and consideration is far to prominent, especially considering how many "consultants" are being used these days! I'll stick to a boat where I can walk around and get drunk.

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Hmmm...

Sorry, I think that is a slightly simplistic and, possibly, unfair view of what happened...

First, how do we know that trains 2 and 3 (and 4 and 5, possibly) weren't already in the tunnel when the first one broke down? (Particularly given 9053 and 9055 left 30 mins apart, a journey through the tunnel takes approx 30 mins, I don't know the stopping patterns of the 2 trains, nor if either were late, held up on the route, etc so it is perfectly feasible for one to have entered just before the first one broke down.) The tunnel, as you state, could possibly take 10 times this number of trains, and until 1 breaks down, there is no reason to stop trains entering.

You complain the tunnel only had 2 rescue locos available, and sound surprised. The East Coast Main Line, I understand, is approx 500 miles in length from London to Edinburgh and has 4 rescue locos available. The tunnel is just 31 miles long, and has 2. There's only 2 tracks under the channel, so how does having more trains help? Maybe you could argue 4 is more suitable (2 working from each end of the tunnel, 1 per line). Also, the more rescue locos you have sat idle the more you pay on maintenance and the more stand-by drivers you have to pay; a cost which is passed onto the customer. There is a case here of having to balance risk with cost, and given how rarely more than 1 rescue train, let alone 2, has been needed I think the balance is about right.

"We know that there is a cab signalling system in the tunnel which is used to give information directly to train drivers on a display." Indeed... But if you read up on the system on your wonderful source, Wikipedia, I think you will find it only displays speed instructions. Sadly, the cab signalling system isn't a free-form text screen (can you imagine what the drivers and signallers may spend all day doing!) on which drivers can be informed of delays, etc. So your comment about "the communications route was there for the train staff to be kept informed about what was going" is not accurate in this form. I would hope that there is in-cab radio for this sort of thing, but if the electrics have been shorted out there is a chance this would not be working (I would hope there is a battery backup, but even that will have limited capacity and may be prone to the same shorting).

There is probably a good reason why doors must remain closed in the tunnel (or anywhere else for that matter). What happens when someone opens the door and gets off? They could get left if the train suddenly starts to move, fall off the walkway under the train, etc. This is a safety issue and I think to criticise it is just plain wrong.

On the matter of emergency food and drink... Well do you really expect them to have an extra supply of food and drink just in case something goes wrong? For a quarter-mile long Eurostar just think how much space this would take up. And what do you do with that food? Keep it there until it goes off, throw it away and replace it? Just think of the waste and the cost!

Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying the companies invovled are totally free of blame. Procedures do need to be reviewed in light of what went on. Communications in particular need to be looked at.

Why do we need a public inquiry? Things go wrong all the time. I would hope that the relevant safety boards do their investigations and that recommendations are made and implemented. But do we call for a public inquiry every time something like this goes wrong? There have been worse incidents than this where people have lost lives, yet the standard investigations are carried out, recommendations made and implemented and life goes on.

This is, sadly, not a perfect world. Things will always go wrong. All we can do is learn from our mistakes to try and make sure they don't go wrong again (at least not in the same way!)

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Protest

to much me thinks, job on the line?

Oh and if i was stuck on a train for 16 hours i would like to know why and see that/the people responsible sacked and as you can guess there will be a cover-up/scape goat found from the people involved so a public enquiry is the only way. I see the french man in charge has already had his man in france in to explain what happened but as usual good old Ove rLord Brown doesn't see any votes in it so he can't be bothered., surprised The Dark Lord ain't got invovled though as this seems right up his 'stick my nose into everthing' street.

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No protest

I'm nothing to do with Eurostar or any of the connected companies.

Merely I am someone who has had an interest in railways from a young age. I also get annoyed with the culture of blame.

Sh*t happens. Life goes on. Demanding the cheif exec stand down is just way OTT. He didn't design the trains, and deliberately make sure they'd fail after 15 (or however many) years like this. Do you think he personally told everyone not to tell the passengers what was going on?

This was, by the looks of it, a very unfortunate set of circumstances that were never thought of. What the CE now has to do is to be seen to be working with the right people to establish what went wrong, where there is room for improvement, and get things back on track (pun intended!)

As has been pointed out elsewhere, I'd like to see you do better... All to easy to sit behind your computer and criticise.

*wonders if our ranting reporter was a passenger on one of those trains and wanted somewhere to let off some steam* (OK, enough with the train puns!)

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Silver badge

Rescue locos

Maybe the East Coast Main Line has only four, but I doubt none can be shunted in with more than just a little effort. Also, the ECML is for the largest part overground, offering more options for emergency crew to reach, and/or passagers to disembark from, a train suffering from Incorrect Crystalline Solid Water Related Functional Degradation. A tunnel basically just has two: forwards and backwards, so maybe more weight should be given to fully utilizing those options (ready-to-digest managerese here).

As for emergency rations: bottled water doesn't really go off, and can be kept as a FIFO buffer for the onboard catering (standard railway catering sandwiches don't go off either, but are unfit for human consumption from the start already anyway). And how much space would a couple of thousand or so energy bars take up?

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Headline

At one point I saw a headline in the media which said "2000 people stuck under the English channel"

In this day and age that's not as bad a thing as it could be...

Now a quick thought about software. Maybe there is something each train has to do when the temperature changes. Maybe it looks up a table (0-9:0, 10-19:1, ..., 50-59:4 (oops, array only goes to 3)) or something similarly systematic. I have seen it happen in a different, and supposedly safety focused industry.

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Slight problem

Fiasco is the right term. Makes them look a laughing stock. The system has been running long enough, surely, to anticipate problems like this. Incidentally, hardly anyone here in the UK refers to the tunnel as "The Chunnel" any more. That was a publicity term that was coined for it and, for some reason, it never really caught on.

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Anonymous Coward

You've lost me...

How does running a service for 15 years make you more likely to anticipate a unpredictable fault?

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Solution

WD40

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Joke

Alternatives

As an American living in Japan, I see two possible solutions:

American solution: If you don't have trains, you won't have train trouble. Close it down.

Japanese solution: Hire the Japanese to run your Chunnel thingy. The only thing that stops trains over here are "jumpers".

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Gold badge

Fit decent screenwipers..

'The only thing that stops trains over here are "jumpers".'

Armour the front, fit decent screenwipers and ensure the nose is painted red. There you go, six nines reliability..

Joking aside, I think it's all a bit early to point fingers. There is a complex mixture of issues at work. Insufficient shielded electronics is in my humble opinion worth investigating - WTF? Secondly, I am very often involved in DR design as well as scenario training (no plan is worth the effort unless exercised in reality), and I handle the big ones of this world. It strikes me that whoever did the DR planning for these guys hasn't been thinking it through - ANYTHING can fail.

Once things have quieted down a bit I would certainly invest in using that quiet time to improve matters. Thing can happen once, that can be bad planning or bad luck - if they happen again, however, you will have to start asking much harder questions.

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Eurostar Directors are Muppets

Saw a Eurostar director interviewed on TV. He said about the weather-related breakdowns that "this is unprecedented". No, mate, it isn't. The Stockholm commuter trains had exactly this problem during winters of 76, 77, 78 (they didn't learn from their mistakes either). We've all heard of the "wrong kind of leaves" - the Stockholm excuse was "the wrong kind of snow".

Did Eurostar bother gathering winter operating experience from around Europe before approving a flawed design?

I can promise all El Reg readers that standing waiting for a dead train on an outdoor platform in temperatures of -20C for an hour or two is quite arduous.

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Terminator

5 trains in none out?

.... sounds like a tear in the franco-english space time continuum to me. Where's the Doctor when you need him?

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FAIL

Public Inquiry...

Can we also have public inquires into the general shitness of uk rail where delays and inept excuses are standard operating procedure?

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Process failures

It's interesting also to note that on the other two occasions when serious problems happened (the two fires) the reaction was faster and more effective. The difference in those circumstances was that the "blue light" emergency services were invoked, and when that happens they, as a rule, take charge and start issuing orders.

Clearly, if someone *is* issuing coherent, sensible, orders, the right things happen reasonably quickly, so the failure here is at the order-giving high level of Eurostar. Do they have a crisis management team? Was it invoked?

I've been on tunnel trains a few times, car & passenger. The car trains were OK, it's just a pity they are now consistently more expensive than the ferries. My most recent passenger experience (August) was disappointing. The Gare du Nord waiting room was too small to hold all passengers and luggage, and boarding was more chaotic than for an Easyjet flight. The train, which was grubby and worn, stopped for an hour at Lille due to an unspecified technical problem which required an 'engineer' to be sent to fix it. The TGV to Paris was a notably better experience (note, though, that French regional trains get just as many brickbats for service as the old Network Southeast. The "grandes lignes" are clearly treated as a priority).

Eurostar all gives the impression of an operation run on a shoestring, with no margin for problems. Is there an authority which monitors maintenance and operating procedures for trains, like the CAA/FAA do for aircraft?

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Stop

Unprecidented? Nope.

Good analysis. As for this being unprecidented, it seems there is a short organisational memory at Eurostar.

Unfortunately the internet has a longer memory, take a look at this report in The Guardian from 2003: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2003/feb/01/transport.world

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I for one

Am actually glad that the Eurostar service is still driven by human beings like myself, who have been from time to time known to cock things up. Unlike Chris Mellor here who is obviously a perfect robot, who would probably shut down the oxygen in section one to get section five out quicker.

So people were late, but they were going to be anyway. Everyones gladly alive. This whole event was obviously beyond what they had forseen and yes a total balls up.... someone will have lost a few millions. So long as they learn from it everyones happy these things happen. We're human.

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Anonymous Coward

Not that surprised

I travel on Eurotunnel (not Eurostar - I take a car across) on average three days per week, and if a train is late leaving the platform (not that regular an occurrence, I hasten to add) they are very bad at saying why.

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Paris Hilton

I can't explain but I can add to the mystery :)

Some food for though .......

--The RCC / Eurotunnel --

If the Eurotunnel [the phat controller that actually controls the tunnel traffic, not the ex-le shuttle bit] RCC was to have failed (The UK one) There is another one in France that 'officially' runs like an AXE-10 or similar (ie dual hot, one executive, the non-executive one 1 instruction behind).

In laymans terms if the UK one stops working, The french one takes over - almost without the actual people who run it realising they are now in control of the tunnel....... and if the French one were then to also fail, then a failsafe falls into play -so lets throw out the idea of the RCC going down, partly as that would have leaked by now.

Also as the article states - the number of slots in the tunnel is very undersubscribed even at peak. So much so, that assuming a rival operator gets its rolling-stock certified, as of next year there is the possibility of lots of passenger services by different companies running (eg RyanRail, EasyEurope....... humm ok lets not get off track). My point here is that to the RCC, even if everything wasn't 'business as usual' they certainly wasn't out of their normal operating procedures, or if they were - they were minor deviations from it.

That strongly leads me to believe that it wasn't the Eurotunnel phat control operators [humans on ground] that caused the initial issue. [i'm just following orders comes to mind] Thought that bit of the business was wholly to blame for not getting the people out of the tunnel sooner can't really be awarded to any one else... though i'm sure they will try! .

---

--Eurostar--

So lets look at Eurostar. This bit needs splitting into 3 or more.

Bit A : Eurostar, the rail bit - as the article says Eurostar in this context is simply a customer of a carrier (or in this case 3 carriers - High Speed 1, SNCEF and "Under-The-Sea") In the same way we buy T1/E1's etc so do they...... so that bit of the business can breath a sigh of relief.... they couldn't have stopped this either IMHO.

Bit B : The poor gits still at the station customer service (ie anyone in CS that isn't on the train) -

You failed on this one big time.... big time ...... There are hundreds of things you could have done, and in this case many of them should have been done.

You could have used the time to ring SouthEastern and block book the Javelins, your friends at SNCEF and get TGV's stacked at Calais and figure out the bit at Dover/ Calais or something similar. You could have "rang" every hotel in a 10 mile radius of the stations and block booked out rooms that were still free and got cabs to transport ppl back and too and many other things that would have helped your customers..

Basically if you feel the need to bring in the police - you need to think - i've upset one too many people... and that should on its own send alarm bells ringing that your doing things wrong.

Im going to stop on this bit now as the rest of what i want to say is a bit too in-depth for a comment section.

Bit C : The Train and its posse... heres where things get really interesting.

I have personally been on 3 Eurostars that have broken down for >2 hours and 2 others that suffered temporary issues.(out of lots - so by the law of averages I'm happy with the number of issues I have been involved in!) and for this train operator theres some quirks

The train is supposed to (and does) carry two sets of crew. The train itself is a mirror of itself (The mirror being at carriage 9/10). This level of double staffing is complete - There are two drivers and driver possee (essentially one is on service, the other on a break ) NB The trains never turn around, and if as I have experienced the train were to stop between Ebbsfleet and Ashford and the London pulling carriage goes completely tits-up - the Paris pulling carriage pulls it back to Ashford...... quite sensible if you ask me.

This suggests that both sides of one of the train failed, else i'd have thought they would have invoked this to pull them out on the French side, non?

Inside the passenger bit there are actaully TWO head honchos of the train - and likewise down the ranks.... this is for service level reasons (mostly) as without it the train is too big to manage by a single crew.

My point here is with two equals on the train, even with an assumed official policy on who runs the show and all of the required facts at both of the head honchos fingers, in the event of an event there is an even number of people making decisions, the same people who will at some point need to work together again - and that always seems to lead to trouble. nuff said

The other point is that even if a train gets to a station - thats not the end of the troubles for "Eurostar" - as the train is essentially in a sort of international no-mans land. Everyone has passed boarder checks and this is where the problem starts.

e.g If a train breaks down in Lille and they open the doors, and another train 'stops (sked)' in Lille they risk a real, if slim chance of letting someone who is barred from a country entering it - They very nicely call this 'cross contamination' (A unfortunate but highly accurate and emphatic phrase).

This is probably the number one reason we hear - 'we were locked on the train for ages'

It boils down to this, there are a number of things "Eurostar" don't really have control over when the smelly stuff hits [though they need better negotitors prior to this] , the one they do is customer service. Unexpected bad things happen but how you deal with them is more important once they have happened. In most cases more than what has happened... and here we have a prime example of how not to handle the aftermath.

To me, this feels like actions of bean counters and suit types that have blocked in the past the sensible concerns of the folks on the ground who probably have preached this was waiting to happen..... only for there ideas to be welcomed and promptly put in a siding marked "bin" or /dev/null - i make this assumption based on general life experience :)

On the plus side I now personally have 4 free returns with them (and at this rate - increasing!!..... does anyone know - are they like shell stamps.... can i trade them for a toaster...?

Paris, well many reasons... I'd like to stay in the Paris Hilton on Eurostars expense :)

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It's easy to explain

The three I s that drive the world - Ignorance, Incompetence and Idleness

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Easy to explain, wrong board members

Now that I don't have a real job any more I can admit I know exactly what will have happened.

The tunnel contains warm moist air, easy to see condensation getting to electronics.

But the real chaos is caused by the choice of board members...

Reading their own list of board members, it appears that no senior executive was in a position to understand the problem. Sure they have a lawyer, marketing people, but no one who could understand what was going on, *by his own knowledge"

There was no top executive who could ask hard questions, or understand the answers.

Worse, it appears that this bunch of arts graduates *could not* really understand, even if it were explained to them.

Nearly all Reg readers have tried to explain some technical screw up to non-technical people.

We use baby language, and put our own spin on it.

If we are technical managers, passing this on, there are multiple levels of spin in what we say based upon reposrts from our PFYs and BOFHs.

Thus the board of directors were misniformed, which includes their spin doctors who emitted vast amounts of contradictory information, not because they are dishonest, but because literally no one knoew what was going on.

Of course if you don't know what's going on, you can't manage the fix either.

some junior managers will try to fix things, and of course spin their "I'm saving the day" to the charlatans who claim to be whatever passes for engineering management at Eurostar.

Since there is no one at board level in charge, there is no one to make decisions based upon any rational basis.

That explains the failure to evacuate, some political faction said they could fix it soon, and it is clear that they had more political power at that time than the safety management, who all should be fired, today.

Safety management isn't on the board either, apparently, which should not surprise us, given the decisions made. But for PR purposes there will be a lonely old guy who didn't make it in the corporate rat race who got the short straw of being top of the safety tree at eurostar.

He won't be all that bright, and clearly has no personal integrity, because he has one absolute veto on any action by his firm, he can walk out of his office and start talking to the horde of journalists, about why it is bad to leave thousands trapped in a tunnel.

But he didn't, he wen with the "commercial decision" and was lucky no one died, because the a board more experienced in playing golf than safety would have left him as the scapegoat.

Also, where *exactly* was the board ?

I've been a director, and was expected to be contactable 365*24 in case of major screwup, including a fax being sent to a hotel which put it on a boat to the little island I was staying on.

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Dead Vulture

WTF?

Has this site been hacked into by the Trainspotters Alliance?

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A few things...

It was a Eurostar spokesman, not a Eurotunnel one talking about the fluffy snow, at the top of page two.

I live a few miles south of Calais, and can vouch that the snow was definitely very fluffy near the tunnel (I'm about 3 miles from the tunnel entrance).

I'd be very surprised if there really was no procedure to cover a stalled train - trains get stuck in the tunnel for one reason or another relatively regularly, and considering what they *have* produced contingency plans for (from my experience they seem to have thought of everything - I'm a very regular traveller), they must have a plan to cover a power failure, which is effectively what happened.

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Boffin

Some Enlightenment is required

As somebody who had the privilege to work on the software for, and install, the IECC signalling system for British Rail in the late 80's I would like to enlighten you on the subject of signalling. I'm sure somebody with a fine collection of anoracks and notebooks will correct me but the gist is important.

On the UK rail network, signals turn red automatically when a train goes past. There is no manual intervention. Further, the interlock system that turns the signal red will prevent an operator from routing a train into an occupied section of track, it simply won't allow the route to be set. At best it will allow the operator to specify where a train is to go, but it will not permit two trains to occupy the same block of track at the same time.

It would appear that the first train got some way into the tunnel before failing - past several signals. The other trains would simply follow on according to timetable because they had a green signal - the systems are largely automated (I still remember with fondness the train from London at 13:15 every Monday that would crash the automatic routing software in York). So the trains simply backed up in the tunnel, one per block of track, and subsequently failed as described when the snow melted.

It isn't all that unusual that the other trains were allowed into the tunnel, after all, the signallers would not know that the problem hitting the first train would also hit the subsequent ones - after all, they didn't know what the problem actually was. There was no reason to believe that all the trains would break down, and there was no rail safety issue in letting them move on into the tunnel. Especially as the alternative was to block up track in, or on the French side of, the Calais terminus. As far as they were concerned, one train broke down and as soon as it was towed out, the rest would continue on their journey.

And to be picky on a point of grammar: "The combined temperature, snow type, and humidity in northern Feance and the tunnel were exceptional - that means untested in system testing terms". To be precise, the systems were untested, not the weather conditions.

(Hello to all my ex-IECC project colleagues, with special mentions to Alistair M, GT 'taxi from Bristol' Smith and Graham Stacey).

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Boffin

@Gulfie 10:42

I too was involved with the IECC project in the 1980s, for a contractor, but I did visit RTC Derby from time to time. However IECC is basically a computerised NX panel using monitors and tracker balls, plus ARS, interfacing to solid state or route relay interlockings. But that's at least a generation or two behind what's deployed on the high speed lines.

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FAIL

thanks for the info

i didn't actually realise it was that bad, thanks for the analysis.

trains are gonna break down. so there must be adequate backup plans when you've got old folks and kids stuck under the sea!!

schoolboy errors indeed. think i'll get the ferry for next years paris trip.

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Hmmm Ferries ...

... safe as houses they are, never had one sink yet. Oh, hold on wasn't there ... ?

PS I would like to believe that your "standard" adult would also feature in any emergency plans, as well as the old and young. This isn't the Titanic, you know.

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Gold badge
FAIL

Another classic of British customer services

Let's screw up royally and when we've got the passengers fuming with frustration and boiling in their own sweat let's not tell them anything as we are *so* busy fixing it.

With just a *little* effort this did not have to be the massive fail it was. The start question being do they normally stuff that many down the hole without one coming out first?

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Joke

Presumably the drivers are French?

And didn't want to tell the passengers WTF was going on. Sounds like typical French service industry behaviour, locking the door and not communicating.

Not that I'm saying british service industry is much better "computer says: no" or "delays due to unforeseen circumstances" would have probably been the level of communications...

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Good article

Perhaps Eurostar can learn from this. At least there was no crash, and the outcome was better than the average ferry disaster.

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Silver badge

Pilot error?

.... is what the french usually blame their tech failures on.

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Anonymous Coward

total perspective vortex

Just an unavoidable side effect of boring huge holes into the planets surface. Occasionally various natural forces combine spontaneously to produce a total perspective vortex into which trains just vanish.

Luckily it's not permanent & they reappear, though what suble effects the process has on the trains and their passengers may not be immediately apparent.

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FAIL

It's just simple physics...

...keep sending trains in at one end and eventually the pressure will build up so much they all pop out of the other end!

Er... right?

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FAIL

Required piece of text... kind of like a DIY captcha

surely the number of trains is decided solely by the rate and the time.

The rate varies throughout the day, but Im sure that on such a busy line its not a small number.. and possibly even normal practice to have three or more in there at once.

so if the lead train fails 80% of the way through trains 2 and 3 are already in. trian 4 enters after 5 minutes and train 5 enters after 10 minutes.. by which time driver one has assessed his engine and realised its a brick, radios through to stop further trains at 12 minutes...

the real disgraces is the lack of coordination of the recovery. the first train was dragged out after many hours and the passangers were transfered but instead of getting them moving they were forced to wait another 3 hrs for the next train to be dragged out. WHY? euro star have been bragging about how quick the service is when the first train broke they should have dispatched a train from London to Kent, then when the first passangers had borded they could have shuttled to london and back to Kent again in that 3 hrs.. ready for the next passangers.

Instead of closing the tunnel they should have operated a relay service - having to change trains in kent and calais would have been better than no trains. and it would have meant the the snowey trains would not be operating in the tunnel.

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Boffin

Canadians can't understand ...

what the wrong type of leaves or the wrong type pf snow has to do with stopping the trains.

We have impressive amounts of leaves that litter the ground every winter and equally we have deep freezes and snow measured in tens of metres in depth. We have 'fluffy' snow, we have sleet, freezing rain yet our trains remain little affected.

Yet our trains plow on without interruption, be they electric or diesel powered.

We have huge snow-blowing machines that clear tracks covered with metres of snow. It is all a matter of being prepared.

How will you manage the Olympics?

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Grenade

Pure Gold

How will 'we' manage the Olympics?

Better than 'you' perform in them my friend.

;0)

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How will we manage the Olympics?

Very, very badly I suspect. I have a flat in London, I'm not sure whether to rent it out for the duration and head for the hills, or sit back and laugh at the ineptitude of it all...

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Troll

Sir

"How will you manage the Olympics?"

Hahahahahahahahahahaha...<breath>

hahahahahahahahahahahahaha..

It will be spectacular, you mark my words - a completely farcical spectacle the likes of which The World has rarely seen.

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How will we manage the Olympics?

Remarkably badly, thanks for asking. It will turn out to be France's fault, though: if they hadn't lost the bid, we wouldn't be in this position. Anyone got any sparklers for the opening ceremony?

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FAIL

Wrong sort of management

As one of the paper's put it this morning, the real cause of failure is that Eurostar employs the "wrong sort of management".

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Those diesel locos

A rail list says there are 5 diesel locos owned by Eurotunnel, none by Eurostar or contracted to them. One TV shot showed 2 of the Eurotunnel locos towing a train towards London.

Press release by Eurotunnel on Saturday (19th) says Eurotunnel rescued 5 E* trains and towed 2 of them to St Pancras.

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N2

Epic fail

So comforting to know that the fat controllers have such scant grasp on whats really going on.

Thank God they dont run a Nuclear Reactor or is it the same lot of operators that survived Chernobyl?

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Coat

Oops

Your description of the signalling system is incorrect. The high speed continental trains do not use track side signals, nor do they use red/yellow/green signals. They mainly use speed based signals, the driver is shown the target speed for the end of the current block and the speed for the next block, flashing if different. The red/yellow/green signals are only widely used in the UK.

I'll stop now before getting into the really geeky stuff.

Mine's the one with the train spotter's almanac in the pocket.

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Grenade

Fair Do's

But I did start my post by explaining what happens in the UK, not in the rest of Europe. And saying that somebody like your good self would correct me. Which you have. Except that I explained the UK system. So haven't, really.

My but what I fine anorack you have there. Is that your own flask? Here, borrow my pencil sharpener.

The principal is still the same - the systems are designed to prevent two trains from being on the same bit of track at the same time. The rest is just the the agreed protocol around telling the driver what to do/expect.

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What I heard...

I'm sure my local news (South East Today) reported that they sent more trains in to shunt the first ones out! I doubt they were expecting five trains to break from the same issue...

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Eurotunnel on Monday?

Apparently they were only running one shuttle from Folkestone to Cheriton every 2 hours, normally there would be 3 per hour (which suggested to the BBC reporter there that they only had a single train operational.)

So what went wrong with *their* trains?

I've also heard the following comments about conditions on one of the stuck Eurostar trains inside the tunnel, that:

- the Eurostar staff didn't have torches (how many should there be per train?)

- there was no emergency lighting (are trains legally required to have emergency lighting?)

- the exit/emergency signs (i.e. stickers) on the train weren't luminous

I also wonder if the power failure meant the braking failed?

What I find odd is that *zero* camera-phone footage or audio from passengers on board (who by the sounds of it had all gone to Euro Disney and therefore you'd imagine would have been taking photos of Mickey Mouse) has emerged yet. Maybe there was some but it was so grainy to be of little use..

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Couple of answers

Most trains I've ever been on have some emergency lighting, but it will be battery operated. Depending on what's tripped with the water ingestion, that may have caused the emergency lighting to fail, or the report may have been chinese whispered and really it was a case of the lighting failed after the batteries discharged. Anyone know how long the battery is meant to last for? (Of course, the same thing would affect the aircon as well.)

When I was on a Eurostar back in February I'm 99.999% certain the stickers on the trains were illuminous. The problem, I suspect, is that over time the luminance fades - they need to keep seeing light to "recharge".

I'm pretty certain that brakes are dsigned to failsafe to an "on" position... Fairly basic thing one would hope!

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Boffin

No common sense.

Eurostar trains have a special coupling, so not just any loco can rescue them. Trains are difficult to stop, so all the train wheels are needed to stop them, so the correct coupling is necessary, There are rail vehicles which have Eurostar coupling on one end and a more common coupling on the other, so they can be rescued by other locos. I have read that this could not be done because the engines available did not have the correct in-cab signalling equipment which warns the driver about adverse signals and stops the train if he does not. Now you might think in an emergency like this you could drive a little slower and even use an extra driver in case one could not see a big bright red light in the pitch black. So would anyone with half a brain. We used to run railways with people who had a whole brain. Where are they now?

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Ostrich management

What I find amazing is that they put their entire business on hold for few days with passengers stranded at stations. They could have implemented several interim measures which would have reduced the pain for passengers and their own losses:

1. Run "warm trains" between Cheriton and Coquelles i.e only in the tunnel and transfer passengers at both sides of the tunnel to different trains. It would not have been efficient but it would have been better than nothing;

2. Stop and clean the snow and ice from the trains before they enter the tunnel. This would need some extra people and equipment and would screw up their timetables - but it is better than nothing.

There are probably other ideas that would have allowed them to continue at least some service - it is unbelievable that they would just stop everything and leave passengers to fend for themselves.

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