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Strikes and glitches trigger week of Euro travel woe

April 5, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Travel in Europe has been hit by a week of torment as strikes and electronic glitches slammed air and rail transport – while separately London Heathrow and Gatwick have warned passengers of protracted flight delays as a new air traffic system is introduced.

A major train strike throughout France caused cancellations of Eurostar trains and many other services yesterday. Huge crowds built up on platforms and a woman fell onto a rail line at Gare de Lyon station in Paris, before being rescued by other passengers.

Fifteen Eurostar services and trains to Disneyland Paris were cancelled as French rail unions went on strike over plans by French president Emmanuel Macron to reform France’s labour market. French national railway SNCF said it expected the strike to stop 85% of French high-speed trains and 75% of regional trains. In 1995, similar mass strikes led by SNCF workers brought France to a standstill.

A quarter of Air France flights were grounded on Tuesday by a separate strike over pay.

A sudden electronic glitch at Eurocontrol air traffic control centre in Brussels, which coordinates air traffic for 41 EU member states, caused wider chaos. Eurocontrol tweeted: “There has been a failure of the Enhanced Tactical Flow Management System [ETFMS].

“Contingency procedures are being put in place which will have the effect of reducing the capacity of the European network by approximately 10%”.

Eurocontrol told pilots and air-traffic controllers across Europe that “all attempts to reactivate ETFMS proved unsuccessful”. Delays spread rapidly.

MEANWHILE, travellers heading through London Gatwick and London Heathrow airports have been warned they face weeks of delays, from now on, sparked by changes in air traffic control technology.

Britain’s National Air Traffic Services (NATS) is bringing itself into the 21st century after 40 years of using paper strips to record instructions passed to pilots. It says the current paper system can no longer deal with the demand.

Yesterday, the London Terminal Control Centre started introducing a new electronic tool called EXCDS to replace the paper. The move is likely reduce the amount of air traffic in the sector (which includes Heathrow and Gatwick) for three weeks.

The Air Traffic Management website estimates the air traffic reduction as 20% for the first 10 days (to allow controllers to learn the new system) followed by 10% for the remaining period. Delays seem inevitable.

A BBC report quoted a NATS spokesman saying it was “very difficult to predict exactly what that delay will be” as many external factors were involved, “like the weather and industrial action in France”.

Experts are hoping the delays will be in the order of 20 minutes, rather than hours.

On the English Channel meanwhile, heightened security checks at the French border yesterday held up ferry services.

Experts warned that longer vehicle checks at the Eurotunnel after Brexit (due in less than a year) could leave drivers stranded in motorway tailbacks as long as 50 kilometres. They cited research by Imperial College London suggesting that such tailbacks could take five hours to clear.

Written by Peter Needham

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