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Eurostar nightmare: 'We can hardly complain'

Oliver Gee · 2 Sep 2015, 15:52

Published: 02 Sep 2015 15:52 GMT+02:00

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It was almost a relief to hear that the train would turn back to London.

We'd been sitting on a Paris-bound Eurostar train somewhere in the south east of the UK for around four hours. Every half an hour or so, the same voice would come over the loudspeaker to apologize for the inconvenience and to say police were still working with "people on the tracks" in Calais.

I'm sure anyone who had seen the front page of a newspaper in the UK that day - or indeed any day in the past few months - would have known that the conductor was referring to migrants from Eritrea, Sudan, Syria who had been living in the Jungle 2 camp in Calais and were trying to sneak into the UK.

On the train, passengers were quite understanding. There were a few sighs and groans with each announcement - even a few sarcastic laughs as the delays continued.

Most people were quiet. Many slept. Perhaps many realized that it wasn't worth complaining about delays when there were people not far away who were literally dying to get the chance to cross the same Channel Tunnel.

While no doubt many did, there wasn't anyone cursing migrants in our carriage.

I spoke to some other passengers about what exactly could be happening on the tracks to prompt hours of police intervention. Had the migrants stormed the tunnel? Or were just a few people in hiding and the rail authorities were playing it safe until they were found.

There were no electricity sockets in my carriage and my phone soon died. There went the entertainment, the clock, the news. Others had the same problems, evidently, as passengers soon marched the aisles with phone and charger in their hands. We could only wait.

More announcements came: "We're offering free water in carriage 5" and "If there's a doctor on board please come to carriage 3". Some passengers joked about whether we would sleep on the train or whether we would starve first. 

And eventually, the final and perhaps most predictable announcement - we were going back to London.

The strangest thing for me was that considering Eurostar authorities had hours of notice that the train had stopped, then at least an hour of notice that a train load of people would be arriving in London at 1am, they didn't do anything to let us know about where we could stay, whether we would be reimbursed for the trip, or how we were going to get to Paris.

After going through passport control in London, the maddening crowd descended on one poor woman at St Pancras who was surrounded by a cacophony of complaints.

One Frenchman was yelling so aggressively that others held him back. She appeared to be solely reponsible for giving information and she looked scared as the crowd shouted.

Others took pictures of the mob, others edged closer to hear the woman. Some - perhaps the wisest of us all - ran into the streets to snap up nearby available hotel rooms.

Whispers passed around that we'd be reimbursed for a hotel room up to the value of £150 and the crowd dispersed in search of beds.

The next day, after a long hold on the Eurostar information line, I learned that we were also allowed £50 of food per person and taxi rides up to £40 each way to a hotel. All this was only confirmed afterwards. But appreciated.

The first available train back to Paris will get me in at 5pm on Thursday, one day late. I could almost have flown to Australia in this time.

Other stories have since emerged of passengers on another Eurostar train that was stuck in Calais, where the conditions were described as "horrendous" as the lights and the air conditioning was shut off.

Nadine Hickey told the BBC the experience was "one of the worst" of her life, saying passengers had been "locked in a train, in the dark, with migrants knocking on the window".

"We had migrants on top of the carriage and they had to come round and manually bolt us in," she said after arriving at St Pancras.

"We were in there in the dark for over four hours with no communication," she added.

Getting directly affected by the migrant crisis may be irritating, but you can't really complain. At least we are allowed on the train in the first place, and given a seat rather than trying to cling to the roof.


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