PARIS: High-speed trains running the Channel Tunnel will resume service today after French unions ended a wildcat strike that had stranded holiday-goers and held up freight just days before Christmas.
The surprise walkout by workers that blocked the tunnel sparked hours of chaos at rail hubs in Paris and London.
Neither side detailed the terms of the agreement or the issues on the negotiating table, but before the strike, French operator Getlink had said unions demanded a tripling of the end-of-year bonus of €1,000.
Employees of Eurotunnel, a subsidiary of Getlink, said the movement was motivated by a “terrible deterioration of the social climate”.
“Besides the money, there are other things. Our conditions are not what they used to be,” Cathia Capon, a freight terminal coordinator told AFP during a rally in Coquelles.
Eurotunnel unions later announced they were ending their action after negotiations with management that “bore results that satisfy us”.
Getlink said rail shuttle service would resume from yesterday evening, and Eurostar, which operates passenger trains, said regular service out of London, Paris, and Brussels would follow suit today.
Eurostar said it would add six extra trains between today and Sunday after it had been forced to cancel 30 scheduled trains.
At Gare du Nord station in Paris and St Pancras in London – the main hubs for cross-Channel passenger train travel – frustrated travellers dashed to change their reservations or find alternative transportation.
“We support people who want to strike…but we have to tell people (ahead of time),” said Isabelle Margat, 41, a British translator living in France. “There are lots of people here who simply want to celebrate Christmas with their family.”
‘Disneyland with the kids’
All service between Paris and Brussels and Paris and London was scrapped after the surprise strike started, appearing to catch even the St Pancras station reception and security off guard as they tried to clear platforms of passengers waiting to board.
Thomson Mouana, from South Africa, who had three children with him, had been in the UK on holiday but needed to leave for his flight home.
“This is disturbing us. We don’t have the money and we don’t know what to do.”
“We must get to South Africa but now we are stuck.”
English traveller Sam Boyal said, “We were going to Disneyland (outside Paris) with the kids…it’s just too stressful. You can’t drive suddenly with three kids, you’ve got to plan that.”
Eurostar employees used megaphones to tell stranded passengers at the Gare du Nord station in Paris that all trains for the rest of the day were cancelled.
At Calais in northern France, vehicle queues more than a kilometre long were beginning to form at the entrance to the French terminal where cars and trucks board trains to reach Folkestone on the other side of the Channel.
The Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994, carries passengers on Eurostar trains as well as cars and freight vehicles on special cargo shuttles.
Eurostar is owned 55.75% by the French state-owned SNCF Voyageurs, 19.31% by a Quebec public investment bank, 18.5% by Belgian operator SNCB, and 6.44% by US-based Federated Hermes Infrastructure.
It almost went bankrupt during the Covid-19 pandemic but was saved with a €290 million bailout from shareholders including the French government.