Editor’s note: A power supply problem left passengers stuck on Eurostar trains between the U.K. and France for up to 11 hours on Monday and early Tuesday this week. Here’s an account by Richard Wallace, former editorial director of EE Times. Wallace was on the Eurostar 9030, originally scheduled to arrive at 5:17p.m. Monday, but didn’t reach Paris until 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.
PARIS -- Enroute to Paris aboard Eurostar train No. 9030 at 10:30 p.m. local time on Monday (March 5), an announcement over the train’s public address system inform us that a passenger needed medical attention. The train had departed London’s St. Pancras Station at 2:01 p.m. local time. Our train had been sitting motionless for seven hours shortly after departing Lille, about 125 miles (203 km) northeast of Paris.
Over the PA came a second announcement about the need for the drug colchicines. Thirty minutes later, Eurostar conductors assisted a woman in apparent great pain into the café car where I and several other passengers were standing.
With the woman now in obvious, excruciating pain, several unsuccessful attempts were made to comfort her. A folding wheel chair was eventually brought in from a forward car and the train staff carefully placed her in the chair. This only worsened the suffering woman’s pain, and after a minute they stood her up, holding her, again, for support. A few minutes later, another train staff member began placing newspaper pages on the café car floor. Placed on the newspaper-covered floor, she finally to show signs of relief.
One by one, the train staff trailed off, leaving the woman on the floor unattended. I stood by, as there was an intoxicated passenger in the café car who, I feared, might step on the woman.
Finally, two police officers that had been on the train came into the café car and began questioning the intoxicated passenger, oblivious to the suffering woman at his feet. Moments later the drunk passenger and the police offices left and proceeded toward the rear of the train, again leaving the woman unattended until two Eurostar employees returned and placed some kind of support under her knees. Just then, another woman entered the café car with a scarf that was placed under the woman’s legs.
Observing all this and growing increasingly concerned about how the train staff was handling this medical emergency amidst a chaotic Eurostar delay
, I began taking a series of photographs to document what I had just witnessed.
Three police officers then appeared in the car, above the woman, and asked for my iPhone camera. I asked if I had done anything wrong.
“Have I broken a law, officer?” I inquired.
There was no response. I immediately identified myself as a journalist, whereupon I was asked for my journalist identification card. I am an American journalist on business and holiday and do not work in France. The police asked again for my journalist identity card. I offered to identify myself as a member of the working press via my business card, which was in my luggage, in the last car of the train. One of the officers asked me to produce the card and followed me through seven or eight cars to the to the baggage rack. Along the way the aisle was obstructed by a conversation between a female train staff member and several passengers.
One passenger informed the train staff that she was concerned about her traveling companion whom she said was diabetic. She was concerned that unless her diabetic companion had something to eat in soon, her blood sugar levels would drop. The café car had run out of food four hours earlier, and was offering only “free water, coffee and tea.”
At no time did the police officer accompanying me express any concern or offer any assistance to these passengers. The aisle finally cleared when the train staff member blocking the aisle got a call that another passenger somewhere on the train required medical attention.
When the aisle cleared I as able to reach the baggage rack in the last car and produced my business card, which identifies me as an editor. A moment another, a senior train staffer joined the officer. Again, I inquired if I had broken a law or done anything wrong. No response.
Again I identified myself as a working journalist. The train official made a comment about “privacy” and “a photograph,” but when I again asked if I had broken the law or if I had done anything wrong, neither of my questioners offered any response.
“I have been a journalist for more than 30 years and have traveled all over the world as a reporter,” I told them, “and that this was the first time I had ever been intimidated.” The response was deafening silence in the car as all eyes turned toward the rear of the train.
“We’re not intimidating you,” the train official replied, at which point I then asked them to leave me alone if I had not done nothing wrong. To both I added: “There are sick and ill passengers aboard the train who need attention,” adding that I did not understand why I was being questioned as if I were a suspect.
At this point the police officer handed my business card back to me, looked at the officer, and said, “Have a good journey,” to which I replied: “Merci, messieurs.” I was then allowed to return to my seat.
At about 11:30 p.m. local time the train got under way followed by an announcement that we would arrive in Paris in about 1.5 hours. I then composed this account at my seat while the details fresh in my mind.
At 1:05 a.m. Tuesday (March 6), the conductor announced that yet another passenger required medical attention, with a request for a blood pressure monitor.
It was now apparent to me and my fellow passengers that this Eurostar train had no equipment, facilities or trained personnel aboard capable of handling the medical emergencies that developed over the more than eight hours we were aboard the train.
The sitiuation in Gare d'Nord once the train arrived was a continuation of the day's unfortunate events.
Police and ambulances with blue, red and white lights flashing filled the front of the station. The Metro was shut down as tight as a drum.
The cab queue was a 2 to 3 hour wait, according to crowd-sourced estimates. The media was there as well, and a Canal-Plus reporter with microphone and a videographer in tow did standups with one passenger after another.
I arrived at my host's apartment at 4:30 a.m. Paris time.