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Eurostar, and the world’s longest email

January 7, 2011

Did anyone else get one of these in their inboxes this morning?

It’s Eurostar attempting to break the record for the world’s longest customer service email (copied below).

Last year we got caught up in the “wrong kind of snow” debacle, and queued for about seven hours. Hence a free ticket as compensation.

This year was OK, but I hope others who were caught up get more than this lengthy missive from commercial director Nick Mercer.

Maybe their tactic is to bore customers into oblivion, so they don’t complain (I personally lost the will to live just after starting the fifth paragraph.

Anyway, they’re asking for feedback – see the end of the email below. My tip to them is to build an extension to St Pancras, maybe adding another two miles or so of a retail space, so they can easily accommodate this December’s queues…

Dear Traveller,

As a valued customer who had booked to travel on Eurostar in the days before Christmas I wanted to get in touch to apologise for the difficulties you will have experienced in travelling with us during this period of exceptional bad weather.  If you chose to cancel or defer your trip – thank you for making it possible for other customers who needed to travel to make their journeys.

Despite the severe conditions in the run-up to Christmas we were in fact able to carry everyone who wanted to travel and our trains operated well following an extensive winter modification programme involving over 70 individual enhancements.   Having said that, I know how much we inconvenienced our passengers and I felt it was important that in addition to saying sorry we also explained the root cause of the disruption, what we have learnt and how we plan to do better in future.

Between Saturday 18 December and Christmas Eve there was heavy snow on the high speed lines on which we operate.  This meant that services had to run at reduced speeds of either 170kph or 230kph compared to the normal speed of 300kph, journey times were longer and our ability to operate a full timetable every day was restricted.

Until lunchtime on Sunday 19 December we ran a full service but trains operated with 30 to 60 minute longer journey times because of the speed restrictions and some services were delayed in their departure.

On the afternoon of 19 December another rail operator’s train broke down and blocked the high speed line in France for several hours.  This disruption, coupled with a points failure on the line, meant services that afternoon and evening were seriously delayed or had to be cancelled.  This resulted in a significant number of customers not being able to travel on Sunday, trains and crews located in the wrong place and essential train maintenance which is carried out overnight being disrupted as trains were delayed in reaching our depots.  As a result, we had to re-plan the service for the start of the week.  With significant speed restrictions in place it became clear on Sunday night that we would only be able to operate around 80% of services on Monday and Tuesday and the timetable would have to be revised.

Although we were fully booked between Monday 20 and Friday 24 December, we were operating to a special timetable and we needed to accommodate the passengers who had not been able to travel on the Sunday, we took the decision that we would make every effort to carry everyone who needed to travel before Christmas.  We decided therefore to instigate and communicate a ‘first come first served’ check-in process on Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 December.  We recognised that this could result in a large number of customers coming to the stations but our priority was to ensure that we carried everyone who had to travel.  Volunteers from across the business were rostered to provide as much assistance as possible at our stations from 4.30am through to late at night.  We also arranged for hot refreshments to be given to passengers who were queuing and for meals to be provided for customers waiting in the evening.  Our call centre opening hours were extended and train crew and engineers worked extra hours to get the service back to as near normal as possible.

We were, however, aware of the shortcomings of the ‘first come first served’ check-in and were determined to resume normal check-in as quickly as possible.  We were able to reinstate this from Wednesday 22 through to Christmas Eve on 24 December. Customers from the small number of trains that had been pre-cancelled were advised when to check-in and were allocated seats on trains we knew we would operate.

Whilst transport across Europe came under pressure and some airlines and airports struggled to operate at all, we know we can and should do better in future.  We do not want our passengers to have to queue outside our stations so we are focused on finding a solution to prevent this situation from happening again when severe weather causes unavoidable disruption to service.

Once again I am sorry for the inconvenience we caused – please be assured that we will learn and do better in the future.

Kind regards

Nick Mercer
Commercial Director

PS  If you would like to give us any comments or views on how we can improve please send your feedback to We will ensure that every message is read and taken into account.

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