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Weather leaves Eurostar passengers stranded

Around 200 rail passengers stranded by harsh weather sweeping northern France were forced to spend the night in trains at Paris's Gare du Nord station, sleeping in heated carriages.

Weather leaves Eurostar passengers stranded
Photo Kismihok/Flickr

Heavy snow cut a power line in northern France, causing delays to cross-Channel Eurostar trains of of up to eight hours and forcing the cancellation of four services on Tuesday.

High-speed Thalys and TGV services from Paris to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany were cancelled on Monday, affecting around 100 trains and delaying around 40,000 passengers by several hours.

The weather also left around 140,000 homes in northern France without electricity, and forced the closure of Lille-Lesquin airport.

“Two days to go skiing is a little long,” said Michelle Dupont, 45, who spent the night with her husband in a heated train at the Gare du Nord.

They left Calais in northern France on Monday afternoon, expecting to take a night train to the Alps the same day, but the normally short journey ended up taking over eight hours.

“When we arrived they put us in a train to sleep and gave us blankets and some food,” she said.

Passengers had to leave their trains at 5:30 am on Tuesday so they could be cleaned.

“Two hundred people spent the night in the warmth,” the station’s spokesman, Loic Leuliette, told AFP. He said there had been “an accumulation of different incidents in different places. It was unprecedented.”

Some passengers with young children were put up in hotels, he said.

Eurostar passengers who arrived in Paris from London with an eight-hour delay also spent the night in carriages.

“We left London at 5:30 pm, an hour late. We finally arrived at 2:30 am, after several stops en route, particularly in the tunnel, because the tracks were overloaded,” said Yannick Mougas, 24.

“We had nothing to eat in the Eurostar,” said his friend, Charlotte Buvry, 25. “And we didn’t get anything here, neither blankets nor food.”

Paris-based consultant Kelvin Frisquet, 40, said his Eurostar arrived in Paris from London at 2:00 am rather than 9:17 pm.

“We took a taxi with some Americans who had flown in from Atlanta (in the southern US), they took less time to travel from Atlanta to London than to do London-Paris!” he said.

Eurostar said it was “very sorry” for the disruption and offered passengers with tickets for cancelled trains the chance to exchange them for another day.

The disruption threatened to hit Paris Fashion Week with leading industry figures taking to microblogging website Twitter to highlight their travel difficulties.

British model Laura Bailey tweeted from London on Monday: “Nowhere near boarding and just got caught up in a fight..Chaos.Bon chance!”

Fellow model Poppy Delevingne described herself as “deliriously tired” after sitting on the track for four hours while designer Henry Holland declared it a “Eurostar DISASTER”.

A Eurostar spokeswoman told AFP on Tuesday: “The power’s repaired and restored and everything’s running fine.”

“No one was stuck overnight. Nobody got stranded. But there were some trains that were very severely delayed because of the sheer congestion on the lines.

National railways operator SNCF said that all train services in northern France were back to normal on Tuesday morning.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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