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Eurostar resumes service between Paris and London

PARIS - PARIS (AP) — Eurostar resumed its high-speed rail service linking Britain, France and Belgium on Tuesday after a three-day suspension that stranded tens of thousands of holiday travelers and left French President Nicolas Sarkozy indignant.

The first train pulled out of the Gare du Nord station in Paris shortly after 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) carrying 750 passengers, many of whom had been stranded for days. Hundreds of others waited in a line that stretched across the cavernous Paris train station, as Eurostar staff circulated with trays of pastries and coffee in paper cups.

Terminal manager Nelly Clair-Meunier said people who were supposed to travel over the weekend were being given priority on Tuesday's trains, which were expected to leave hourly throughout most of the day. That represented about two-thirds of Tuesday's regularly scheduled trains, she said.

"It's going quite well," Clair-Meunier told The Associated Press. "The passengers were quite happy and they were thanking us for getting to travel on that first train."

Claire Morley, a 23-year-old student from Paris, said she and her traveling companion had been waiting in line since 5:30 a.m. (0430 GMT). Both were scheduled to travel Tuesday and had been closely following news of Eurostar's suspension throughout the weekend.

"It's supposed to be a pleasurable trip, just a little holiday," Morley said of her planned three-day stay in the British capital. "It's not starting off on such a relaxing note, though," she said as she boarded the first train of the day.

Others, like Britain's Isabella Comba, were worried about making connections to flights and other trains in London.

"My mother's sick, said I really want need to get home to be by her bedside," said Comba, who works at Sotheby's auction house and was hoping to catch an afternoon train to Cornwall, in southwestern England. "It will really throw off my plans if I'm not able to get to London today."

Officials at the Eurostar train company said they had identified the problem that caused trains to break down in the Channel Tunnel — unusually dry, powdery snow that got into the engines.

As many as 40,000 people have been affected by the suspension. Eurostar offered its "deepest apologies" and promised compensation.

Jennifer Eboule, another French student waiting in line at Gare du Nord, said things were "going smoothly" Tuesday morning but complained about Eurostar's overall handling of the incident.

"It's not like it never snowed before," said the 21-year-old. "It's hard to understand how something like that could cause such a big problem."

President Sarkozy summoned the head of France's SNCF rail operator into the Elysee Palace on Monday for a one-on-one meeting and ordered him to get the Eurostar moving again, saying the situation was "unacceptable for travelers."

Problems started Friday after five trains failed inside the Channel Tunnel, trapping more than 2,000 passengers for hours in stuffy and claustrophobic conditions. Exhausted, sometimes teary-eyed passengers appeared in British and French TV broadcasts complaining that they had been left underground for more than 15 hours, without food, water or any clear idea of what was going on.

Eurostar's CEO Richard Brown, who has faced stiff criticism over the company's handling of the crisis, pledged that "we will be doing our very best to get everyone home by Christmas."

The company's operations chief, Nicolas Petrovic, said dry snow had got past the train's snow-screens and into the engines Friday. Then the snow turned into condensation inside the Channel Tunnel, where temperatures were higher than those outside. That condensation caused the trains' electrical circuits to fail, he said.

"It's the first time we have these snow conditions in 15 years," he said, adding that normally snow in the region tends to be wet and heavy. Eurostar has commissioned an independent review into the problems.

While Eurostar works on getting the huge backlog of passengers home, it is blocking any new ticket sales until after Christmas.

Petrovic blamed Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel, for the delay in rescuing passengers from the stuck trains, and did not exclude possibility of legal action.


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