The troubled cross-Channel company Eurostar had little cheer for stranded Christmas travellers today as it launched inquiry into the weekend collapse of its service - but no trains for a third day - and then blamed 'fluffy' snow for the disruption.
Eurostar promised an update for passengers only at the end of the day as it investigates what made five trains break down inside the Channel Tunnel over the weekend, trapping 2,000 passengers without air conditioning for up to 16 hours.
The evacuation was delayed by an apparent breakdown in communication between Eurostar and Eurotunnel. Passengers said that they were treated like animals and left mostly in darkness without food, drink or working toilets.
In the increasingly airless carriages, many suffered panic attacks. Those who left the train and found their way to a service tunnel between the two tracks complained they were given no advice or instructions.
Eurostar cancelled all services for today and said it had identified the problem it thought had caused the breakdowns, had modified its trains as a result and was today testing them, in the hope that normal services could resume tomorrow.
Nick Mercer, commercial director of Eurostar, said there were rumours that something had been done to the trains which failed but that this was “absolutely not” the case.
He said a “winterisation” process had taken place during which technical adjustments were made to the trains and a “standard set of procedures” was followed.
He said: “The winterisation modifications worked absolutely successfully. The changes that we made worked perfectly. This is a new problem.
“It seems to be a strange combination of factors. It was the amount of snow, which was higher than we experienced before, it was lighter than normal, fluffier, and the temperature inside the tunnel and the humidity was higher than normal.”
He said the winterisation process, which took place in autumn, had worked successfully for the last 15 years but on Friday the conditions had been “exceptional”.
Mr Mercer said modifications had been carried out and the trains were being tested today with the intention that they would be back in service tomorrow.
"We will not have an update until 6pm," said a EurostaEurostar spokesman. The shutdown comes at a time when about 20,000 people a day travel back and forth under the Channel.