Tunnel fire delays plans for fast train
THE Channel Tunnel fire has delayed the planned return of high-speed rail services between Ashford and Brussels.
Eurostar has issued a revised timetable to take account of a restricted service through the tunnel while it undergoes repair. It could take several months to restore a full service.
One of the victims of the new timetable is the service between Ashford and Brussels.
Eurostar said that the reintroduction would be deferred until full tunnel capacity is restored.
This will be a blow to councils, individuals and business organisations who battled for its restoration after Eurostar controversially chopped all services between Ashford and Brussels.
Eurostar switched all Brussels departures to Ebbsfleet, claiming that there were not enough passengers boarding the train at Ashford to justify keeping it.
But after a fierce protest campaign, Eurostar said that it now saw potential commercial benefits from a restored Brussels service, which was due to resume on December 14.
But fate has now intervened and it could be several months before the promised Brussels service comes back to Ashford.
Eurostar spokesman Simon Montague said: “We simply cannot start this service on December 14 as originally planned, but it remains our firm intention to introduce this service once the full capacity of the Channel Tunnel is restored. Unfortunately, that is the situation we find ourselves in.”
He added that the operator had tried to find ways of keeping the restored service on schedule but that it proved impossible.
“We have looked every which way at whether we could do this, but we were unable to do so.”
The reduction in tunnel capacity has also had an impact on the timings of some Ashford-Lille services and means that a connecting return journey between Ashford and Brussels via Lille now requires an overnight stop.
The number of services calling at Ashford International for Paris – three a day – and for Disneyland Paris – one a day – remains unchanged.
There are six trains a day on weekdays from Ebbsfleet International to Paris, compared with seven before the fire on September 11.
The number of inbound trains remains unchanged at seven every weekday.
There are also four trains a weekday each way between Ebbsfleet International and Brussels, compared with five previously.
The new timetable shows that journey times are, on average, 20 minutes longer than normal, mainly due to slower running through the tunnel.
Nevertheless, the high-speed rail operator claims a 93 per cent punctuality of its trains in the fortnight following the Channel Tunnel fire, which is thought to have been caused by a chemicalfilled lorry.