Eurotunnel Le Shuttle evacuation: what happened in Channel Tunnel after Calais to Folkestone train broke down?

The 3.50pm Eurotunnel Le Shuttle broke down in the Channel Tunnel between Calais and Folkestone, forcing passengers to exit through a service tunnel.

Eurotunnel passengers who had to be evacuated through a service tunnel after their train broke down beneath the Channel have described the scenes as “like a disaster movie”.

They were transferred to a cargo train but complained of being stuck in the sub-sea tunnel for nearly five hours, citing issues with the replacement transport.

Travellers described the rescue efforts as “utter carnage” saying they were kept in the boiling hot train for hours, and that elderly passengers were forced to walk a mile along the under-water tunnel.

The initial breakdown late on Tuesday affected the 3.50pm Eurotunnel Le Shuttle service from Calais to Folkestone on Tuesday, and led to other trains being cancelled.

What happened? 

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Social media videos show travellers walking through the service tunnel beside the 31-mile route between Britain and France. Some holidaymakers were carrying suitcases, and some were with pets.

Those in Calais were warned to stay away from the terminal until 6am on Wednesday (24 August 2022), with pictures showing a complete gridlock at the shuttle terminal late into Tuesday evening.

A Eurotunnel Le Shuttle spokesman said: “A train has broken down in the tunnel and we are in the process of transferring customers to a separate passenger shuttle via the service tunnel, to return to our Folkestone terminal.”

They said such incidents were unusual but not exceptional and more common on trains carrying lorries than those with private cars.

The spokesman stated: “The Shuttle was brought to a controlled stop and inspected. As a precautionary measure, for their safety and comfort, we transferred the passengers on-board to another shuttle, via the service tunnel [which is there for exactly that purpose].

“We brought them to the passenger terminal building, where food and drinks were available, and then slowly brought out the original shuttle and reunited them with their vehicles.”

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What have passengers on Eurotunnel Le Shuttle said?

However furious passengers have described the rescue efforts as “like a disaster movie” and saying the exit was terrifying.

“You were just walking into the abyss not knowing what was happening,” Sarah Fellows, 37, from Birmingham, explained.

She said it took 18 hours to return home from a family holiday in France after the “utter carnage” of the evacuation.

“The service tunnel was terrifying. It was like a disaster movie,” Sarah revealed.

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“We all had to stay under the sea in this big queue. Fire and rescue were there.

“There was a woman crying in the tunnel, another woman having a panic attack who was travelling alone.

“They were expecting really older people to walk for a mile down the middle of a tunnel under the sea.

“It was utter carnage when we arrived in Folkestone as they hadn’t really prepared for us arriving.”

While Kate Scott, 43, from Surrey, who was travelling with her husband and two children from a family holiday in France, said the train was boiling hot.

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“It was hot, there was no air con, they gave out water but we didn’t really know what was going on,” she said.

“They told us to get out of our cars and get to the front of the train, where we waited for nearly an hour with no information at all in the boiling hot. People were getting a bit agitated.

“They eventually opened the doors and we had to walk down the train, down the service tunnel where we were held for another 40 minutes for the evacuation train.”

Michael Harrison, from Cranbrook, Kent, one of those on the evacuated train, said 10 minutes into the journey the lights went out and the train stopped.

He explained that engineers tried to fix the issue for almost four hours, before the passengers were told to exit via the service tunnel.

“We then walked approximately 10 minutes to a train in front of the stricken train. That train then stopped as it couldn’t get traction, presumably as it was long and had no weight on it.

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“There were gasps of incredulity when that was announced. We finally arrived in Folkestone six hours after boarding.”

Has this happened before? 

In 2009, over 2,000 people were trapped for several hours in the channel after five Eurostar trains broke down due to heavy weather conditions.

The trains broke down as they left the cold air in northern France, and entered the tunnel - where it was warmer.

Some passengers were evacuated via service Tunnels, and others stayed on their trains.

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In 2015, the Channel Tunnel was closed after a fire on a lorry, the BBC reported.

No one was hurt by the fire, which broke out on the French end, but some passengers said they were evacuated from trains in the tunnel and given gas masks.

Have Eurotunnel Le Shuttle delayed or cancelled any services? 

A Eurotunnel spokesman said services were now back to normal , and according to the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle website, all services are running normally between Folkestone and Calais, and vice versa.

The website was last updated at 8:51am with this information.