What promised to be a romantic New Year’s Eve in Paris ended in tears and travel trauma for Sean Winterbottom and his partner, Amy. The couple were among about 30,000 passengers to have their Eurostar journey cancelled on Saturday because of a flooded tunnel under the Thames.
“We were going to go for a flash dinner and … we had bookings, hotel reservations and everything,” Sean said of the trip they had been looking forward to for months.
They were booked on the 9.31am from St Pancras, but as soon as they arrived at the station at about 8am they could tell there was a problem.
“The whole place was chock-full of people and you could feel something was wrong,” Sean said. “Then one by one the trains got cancelled until they were all cancelled.
“It was chaos and really stressful. Amy was crying.”
The couple had to abandon their Paris plans and console themselves with a bottle of champagne from Sainsbury’s.
Sean, who is from Auckland in New Zealand, added: “What can you do? It’s a classic English holiday. The weather got in the way.”
He returned to St Pancras on Sunday to see off his daughter Isabella whose train was running on time. “It was so full of distressed passengers yesterday that she wanted me to be here for support,” he said.
Andrew and Fiona Eyre, both 52, from Sheffield, had been looking forward to their trip to Paris since booking it in September, but their train was also cancelled. “It was absolute mayhem and the lack of communication was just disgusting,” Andrew said.
“It was obvious things weren’t moving but they didn’t tell us anything. Our train at 10.31am wasn’t officially cancelled until 4pm. The system just couldn’t cope, and there was no explanation. They just kept saying it was ‘infrastructure’. We only found out from the news that it was flooding.”
Fiona said: “There was a couple next to us with three kids and I really felt for the families. It was horrible, you couldn’t move in here for people.”
After spending a night in a hotel in London, the Eyres managed to book on to a 1.30pm train on Sunday that was due to depart on time. Andrew said: “We feared the worst this morning and were thinking about where we would go for a takeaway when we got back home, but it looks like they’re running on time now.
“The cost of the rebooked tickets was ridiculous and the hotel we had booked in Paris last night wasn’t cheap.”
Natalie and Anne-Mie and their two teenage daughters were trying to return to their home in Ghent in Belgium after a sightseeing trip to London.
They were originally booked on a 9am train to Brussels on Saturday. When that was cancelled they rebooked on a 3pm train, which was also cancelled. Because of commitments in Ghent they had to pay an extra £1,000 for business class tickets for a 1.30pm service on Sunday that was scheduled to depart on time.
Natalie, who is a nurse at a hospital in the city, said: “We chose to pay the extra because we had a family dinner this evening.” Anne-Mie, an anaesthetist at the same hospital, added: “And I have to work tomorrow.”
Natalie said: “Fortunately, we can afford it to pay extra, but as our youngest daughter said, ‘what about poor people who cannot afford £1,000 extra just to get home?’
“It was very stressful but we tried to make the most of it with another night in London.”