Undersea Journey Takes on
New Dimensions - in Time

Eyewitness Account of Channel Tunnel
Rocky Horror Boring Hungry Trip

A Metropole exclusive - by Tony Brock
EurostarParis:-Tuesday, 20. February 1996:- London and Paris take a mild climate and easy transport facilities for granted. We don't bother with snow tires or anti-freeze. To move between capitals, we hop a Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel and in three hours we're there: the hassle-free way to travel.

That is, until there's snow on both sides of the Channel, you're in an English country home and you've got to get back to Paris for business appointments while the wind-chill factor has reached 'Retreat from Moscow' proportions. Then disillusion sets in.

Mornings, between nine and ten, Eurostar enquiries simply doesn't answer. Okay, that's a cheaper way of telling you they don't know. After that, they put on recorded messages about what the services would be like if they were normal and you long for the sound of a live human voice. But you're an experienced world traveller, you know when to cut your losses. Boot, Saddle, to Hired Car and Away: to Ashford International Station, which is the station on the English side of the Tunnel.

As a cosmopolitan, you've never bothered before with mere staging posts like Calais Fréthun in France or Ashford International. Ashford turns out to be near nowhere in particular except the mouth of the Tunnel and has all the cozy charm of a dentist's office. But it's only two timetabled hours from Paris and you can get aboard just before 14:00, in time for lunch.

Your train leaves after 16:00; passengers from London have already eaten all the lunch. But you've had two Danish and you've a dinner date in Paris; an experienced traveller doesn't worry. Then you enter the Tunnel.

When you emerge at Calais Fréthun, it's 21:00, you've missed your dinner date by an hour and been unable to phone during your five hours under the sea.

Not that you'd have been able to say much, for you're as short on info as on food. The 'Train Manager' hasn't identified herself while broadcasting frequent apologies; nor has she explained or informed. She's just apologized. It's several hours before you've worked out that the locomotive had broken down and that only a new one hooked on to our train would get us out. Out of the Tunnel.

So when she says we will have to detrain and switch to a new "high speed Eurostar train to Paris", that seems logical and no more than our due; after all, we've paid for it.

Logical, perhaps. True, no. They move several hundred people to a rail line that can't carry Eurostars and send our train - OUR train - back to London. We leave at 01:30, Wednesday; our elderly French train reaches Gare du Nord at 03:10, when taxis and food - remember that stuff? - are hard to find.

If Eurostar didn't send out St. Bernhard dogs with brandy around their necks, at least they had girls waiting for us with nicely printed forms telling us how to apply for compensation. These should make interesting reading; 'round me, passengers had moved on from accepting that Eurostar 'Needed to be Economical With the Truth,' to rejecting 'Their Damn' Lies.'

I haven't sent my claim yet but I can share with you some of the things I'm going to say to Eurostar:

- You've got a good number - up to now, I was your most passionate unpaid publicist - but things can go wrong.

- When they do, say so. Giving first the bad news, then the bad news and then the bad news doesn't help you, or us.

- Put more food - lots more food - aboard and even sell it; eating passes the time.

- Young hostesses are certainly decorative, but if they aren't authoritative enough to keep the gangways clear, they're not being very useful. If they're not informed - and ours weren't - they can't inform the customers.

- Speaking for myself, if I have to choose between the decorative and the eatable, I prefer the eatable. And I'm not sure that cannibalism is a good selling line for transportation services nowadays.

Ed. note:- Wednesday's edition of Le Parisien, reported with the headline, 'Trou Noir Dans le Tunnel,' that trains entering the Tunnel, were covered with ice that melted, deranging the electrical systems. Trains carrying cars and trucks - 'Le Shuttle' - were stopped Tuesday afternoon.

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