Politics [1] | Howards Way [2]

Politics: Independent review into Eurostar debacle makes grim reading

Contributed by editor on Feb 18, 2010 - 08:35 AM

Howards Way [3]

Howard's Way.... a weekly column from the Rt. Hon. Michael Howard QC. MP.

18 February 2010

The report of the independent review into the debacle suffered by Eurostar and its passengers in December makes grim reading.

Conditions in the trains which were stuck in the tunnel for many hours were appalling, and all trains were cancelled for three days, disrupting the travel plans of almost 100,000 people.

The report demands an urgent review of evacuation procedures and made a number of technical recommendations to ensure that Eurostar trains do not suffer the same breakdowns in future.

Its recommendations include improved rolling stock, a better evacuation plan and vastly improved communication.

Eurostar promised to implement all 21 recommendations made by the review. They have pledged £18 million to equip trains for severe weather and improve passenger care and £12 million to provide a new communication system inside the tunnel.

One element of reassurance came from the review’s finding that evacuations were carried out safely and there was no indication that if there had been a fire people would not have been able to get off the trains very quickly.

After events of this kind we are always told that lessons have been learned. I hope they have been.

But my experience last Thursday does not make me wholly optimistic. Admittedly this had nothing to do with Eurostar. But it did involve communication which should not be the most difficult thing to get right.

I arrived at St Pancras in good time to catch a train to Folkestone so that I could attend the funeral of Rifleman Peter Aldridge, who gave his life so heroically in Afghanistan. All the indicators at the station indicated that the train would leave on time. They were not changed even when an announcement was made that the train would not arrive at St Pancras until 40 minutes after it was supposed to have left.

It must be possible to do better and I shall be taking this up with Southeastern Trains. And I hope they don’t blame the snow!

That, of course, was why the trains ran late. It is no excuse for the failure to communicate properly with passengers.

© Hawkinge Gazette and Channel Coast News 2010