Passengers stranded after Eurostar trains suspended by suspected migrants

A Eurostar train coming out of the Channel Tunnel.
A Eurostar train coming out of the Channel Tunnel. PHOTO: AFP

LILLE, France (AFP) - Hundreds of passengers were left stranded in dark, stifling Eurostar trains in the early hours of Wednesday after several suspected migrants climbed onto the tracks near the French port of Calais.

By 5.00 am French time (1130 am Singapore time), passengers on the 9055 train from Paris to London were still waiting at the Calais-Frethun station in northern France after “intruders” on the tracks blocked trains from entering the Channel Tunnel, a Eurostar official said. 

Water and food have been distributed to passengers and “rescue services are also present for those who need help, particularly the elderly,” added the official, describing the situation as “complicated”.

A passenger aboard the train, Geraldine Guyon, said the situation remained tense in the station, which lies close to the port of Calais where some 3,000 migrants living in makeshift camps have been ramping up their attempts to cross the tunnel to Britain.

“There must be about 1,000 people on the platforms which are full to overflowing. There is no communication, soldiers are present,” said Guyon from the train of 18 cars, which could be carrying a maximum of 750 people under Eurostar rules.

Clothilde, 23-year-old French woman who lives in London, said she had seen the police hurrying down the train and believed there were migrants on the roof.

“We have not see the migrants, but we knew that they were everywhere on the roof and that’s why we waited for a helicopter to ensure there were no migrants above us,” she said, adding: “Passengers are not allowed to leave the station, except to take a taxi at the entrance.”

- ‘Security forces have intervened’ -

A spokesman for French rail company SNCF said people on the tracks on the French side of the tunnel had forced a train to slow down.

“Once the train stopped, law enforcement intervened... and that blocked Eurostar services that were travelling towards London and the power had to be cut for safety reasons,” he said.

A Eurostar official said the company hoped to transport passengers to London, the train’s original destination, in the coming hours.

Five other trains originally disrupted by the incident have either been sent back to where they departed from or on to their final destination.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure passengers are welcomed with a drink, food, taxis and hotels when they arrive,” a Eurostar spokesman said.

France and Britain have brought in emergency measures to deal with a surge in the number of migrants trying cross the Channel Tunnel after people died while making a desperate attempt to reach England.

London has announced an extra seven million pounds (S$15.2 million) to help France secure the Eurotunnel site on its side of the Channel, in addition to 4.7 million euros already spent on erecting barriers aimed at securing access to the terminal and the platforms.

But Europe is struggling to cope with a surge in new arrivals fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, and Eurostar services have been repeatedly hit as thousands of them have attempted to reach what they see as the “El Dorado” of Britain.

Services on the Channel Tunnel were also disrupted by striking French sailors, who blocked Calais for several days in July.