Thousands of passengers on both sides of the Channel were scrambling to get home in time for Christmas last night after Eurostar blamed the closure of their train network on the wrong type of snow.
More than 55,000 people have been stranded following a three-day cessation of the vital rail link between Britain and France which began on Friday evening when six trains became stuck in the tunnel because melted snow shorted vital electrical circuits inside the 186mph trains.
Apologising for some of the worst delays in the company's 15-year history, Eurostar's chief executive Richard Brown last night announced that trains would begin running a “limited” service through the Channel Tunnel from this morning. But tickets would be prioritised for the elderly, the needy and those who had their journeys cancelled over the weekend.
Amid widespread confusion over when and how replacement tickets would be handed out, hundreds of passengers were planning to camp outside ticket offices in Paris and London last night. Many of those who had been stranded demanded to know why transport executives could not have organised more coaches to take travellers to Dover or Calais to catch ferries across the Channel.
Those hoping to find alternative ways home yesterday had their misery compounded by widespread disruption to travel services across Britain because of the wintry weather.
The backlog of stranded passengers grew when Euro Tunnel, which takes freight and car passengers through the tunnel in trains which have not been affected by the cold weather, stopped taking new arrivals yesterday afternoon because of over-congestion.
The breakdown in Eurostar's services led politicians on both sides of the Channel to demand answers from the company's executives on why they had failed to prepare the trains to operate in heavy snow.
Eurostar has commissioned its own independent inquiry into the delays, but the French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for an urgent meeting of senior French and British officials to consider the “unacceptable” chain of events which blocked cross-Channel rail services for three days.
Many frustrated and anxious would-be passengers were planning to camp at Gare de Nord station in Paris and St Pancras in London last night. Sze-Wei Lu (27), a British woman of Chinese origin, had been on one of the Eurostar trains which was turned back in northern France on Saturday. “It has been a nightmare,” she said.