Eurostar's lack of winter preparations was responsible for the train breakdowns last December that left thousands of passengers trapped beneath the Channel Tunnel for hours and snarled holiday travel for days, a French newspaper reported Thursday.
The report in Le Parisien daily cited the findings of two experts who Eurostar hired to investigate the debacle. Their report is to be officially released on Friday.
On the evening of Dec. 18, five trains broke down under the Channel Tunnel, the only land link between Britain and the European continent. Some 2,000 travelers were trapped for up to 16 hours, and at least 40,000 others saw their travel plans upended by a subsequent 3-day-long suspension in Eurostar service at the height of the holiday travel season.
At the time, company officials said unusually dry, powdery snow that got into the trains' engines was responsible for the breakdown. But they also blamed Eurotunnel — which operates the Channel Tunnel — for delays in rescuing passengers from the stuck trains, and Eurostar operations chief Nicolas Petrovic did not exclude the possibility of legal action against Eurotunnel.
The experts' report however, pins the lion's share of the blame on Eurostar, saying the company's aging and poorly maintained trains were ill-prepared for severe winter weather.
"The two experts ... are categorical: Nearly all of the recommendations that they are going to make concern" Eurostar — and not Eurotunnel, the news report said.
"The process of 'winterization,' which is well known and has been used for years in countries like Canada, was not put into place in time," said Le Parisien, paraphrasing the experts' report.
It said the report recommended improved procedures to prevent snow from getting into sensitive areas and guaranteeing better protection against humidity in the circuits.
The experts also chided Eurostar for failing to react correctly to the crisis, with staff members leaving passengers without information, food or water for hours. The experts also recommended that Eurotunnel invest in more than the two trucks currently in operation and make more flashlights available inside the tunnel in case of power failures.
Multiple calls to Eurostar seeking reaction to the report went unanswered.
Meanwhile Thursday, as another cold front hit France and southern Britain, Eurostar spokesman Richard Holligan said traffic on the rail link again had been disrupted.
Holligan, who is based in London, said the snowy, frigid temperatures and a track problem were behind the delays Thursday, which saw three trains held on the English side of the Channel Tunnel after a point failure on the track.
He later said that Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain's rail infrastructure, had fixed the problem.
Speed restrictions imposed during cold weather were already causing Eurostar delays of about 30 minutes.