When Ilse Deurloo arrived at St Pancras station after a festive holiday with her boyfriend in London, she was shocked by the scenes of chaos and disruption as thousands of travellers were left stranded.
“This is not what I had in mind,” said Deurloo, 20, who was planning to return home to Amsterdam on Saturday. Her train, like all expected high-speed services between Ebbsfleet International and London St Pancras International, was cancelled due to flooding in a tunnel under the Thames.
The disruption left passengers marooned, New Year’s Eve plans scuppered and wallets hit as people tried to find alternative routes to their homes or holidays. At the station, hundreds of suitcases lined the walkways, crowds overflowed from seating areas, children cried and announcements rang out over the tannoy: “We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused.”
Deurloo, whose boyfriend left for Portugal on Saturday morning, said she would try to book a hotel and make the best of her extra day. “It is what it is, I can’t do anything about it,” she said. “I can explore the city more, so that’s a positive effect of it.”
Rupert Laing, 37, boarded the 5.40am train from Edinburgh to London, the first leg of his journey to Limoges, France, to spend New Year’s Eve with his fiance. But when he arrived at St Pancras, he learned his train to Paris was cancelled.
“I’m a bit stuck in the middle at the moment,” he said. “It’s a bit tricky, a bit frustrating.” Laing found himself dashing to an airport to fly instead.
Navigating the chaos with children is another challenge for passengers. Amin Kabbani, a 40-year-old living in Saudi Arabia, was visiting London and then Amsterdam, where his brother lives, with his partner and five-year-old son. He bought his son a football magazine from a shop inside the station to keep him busy. “I’m trying to bribe him with gifts from Hamleys,” Kabbani said.
Nick Thompson, 41, who lives in Washington, DC, was visiting London with his wife, Chelsea, and two children aged five and seven. “They’re doing pretty good, they’re doing better than I am,” he said. His son wore a Paris Saint-Germain jersey and they had planned to tour the stadium on Saturday.
For Thompson, the flooded line resulted in a significant expense. He said he was paying £2,800 for a private car to get to Paris by an alternative route. “We have to get there,” he said. The family made bookings for the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and dinner on Sunday and hoped to salvage their new year holiday. “We’re disappointed but we’re hopeful that we’re able to clear it up,” he said.
Pearl Vaughan, a 33-year-old based in Le Havre, France, came to London on Christmas Eve with her parents and boyfriend, Johan Roussel, 31. They were slated to get home on Saturday to spend New Year’s Eve with friends – but were left unsure if their train would depart.
“It’s a shitshow,” Pearl said. They feared missing their connecting train from Paris to Le Havre and faced the prospect of being stranded in London for New Year’s Eve as flights and alternative routes to France became booked up.
Herman Mellema, 30, came to London with his partner from Amsterdam. They chose rail over flying to cut back on carbon emissions, but found themselves looking at flights anyway after their train was suspended. Mellema said he wished they had left on Friday. “It’s Murphy’s law,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate, but we’re not going to sit here being all grumpy.”