Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
The first time I met Pat Williams from Crewe was on Friday 22 December. At the time, she was enduring a fairly bleak midwinter journey to visit family in southern France. Pat had done the right – if difficult and expensive – thing. Rather than hopping on the 42-minute train from her local station to Manchester airport and flying from there, she was determined to limit her damage to the planet. Pat booked a trip by rail via London and Paris.
The previous day, her journey from Crewe to London Euston had been delayed for five hours on the West Coast main line. With every minute, the stress grew. Pat soon knew it was inevitable that she would miss her booked Eurostar train from St Pancras International to Paris. Regrettably, the rail industry is not as good as airlines at protecting passengers whose planned itineraries fail at the first hurdle. Would she lose her planned train and have to pay possibly hundreds of pounds to get her plans back on track?
Fortunately, that proved academic. Her Eurostar train had already been cancelled as a result of a sudden walk-out by French staff working in the Eurotunnel control centre in Calais. With 30 trains axed on one of the busiest days of the winter, she became one of 25,000 passengers needing somewhere to stay and a replacement Eurostar train. Her family sourced a London hotel, and Eurostar found a seat the following afternoon – which was when I met Pat, while I was reporting on the pre-Christmas travel chaos.
I bade Pat farewell. She now reports: “I finally arrived at my destination in France around 36 hours after leaving home. I enjoyed Christmas with my family, although bad luck continued: I had a fall on my first full day there, and had numerous bruises, and was in quite a lot of pain.”
Pat had booked her homeward trip for 28 December – meaning she missed the next Eurostar festive foul-up, involving flooding in a tunnel beneath the Thames. “The Eurostar was uneventful, no issues at all,” she reports. But after her arrival at London St Pancras, the journey unravelled once more.
“I dashed, well, hobbled to Euston to catch my train to Crewe,” Pat reports.
Very sadly, no trains…