PARIS - The Eurostar train company said it would resume its high-speed rail service linking Britain, France and Belgium today after a three-day suspension that stranded tens of thousands of travelers and left French President Nicolas Sarkozy indignant.
Officials at Eurostar said they had identified the problem that caused the suspension: unusually dry, powdery snow that got into the trains' engines. However, more snow was forecast for early today - just as train service would be getting back up to speed.
"It's the first time we have these snow conditions in 15 years," said Nicolas Petrovic, Eurostar's operations chief, adding that normally snow in the region tends to be wet and heavy.
With as many as 40,000 people affected by the suspension, and TV channels broadcasting images of would-be travelers hunkered down in train stations, Eurostar tried to make amends by offering its "deepest apologies" and promising compensation.
France's rail woes were not limited to Eurostar, though.
A suburban Paris train went off the tracks Sunday night, prompting part of the line to be shut down temporarily. Another suburban train line was crippled by strikes that entered their second week yesterday, snarling Paris traffic and wreaking havoc for holiday shoppers.
Sarkozy summoned the head of France's SNCF rail operator, Guillaume Pepys, to the Elysee Palace 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 English Channel tunnel, trapping 2,000 passengers for hours in stuffy and claustrophobic conditions.
Exhausted, sometimes teary-eyed passengers appeared in British and French TV broadcasts complaining they had been left for more than 15 hours without food or water or any clear idea of what was going on.
Eurostar CEO Richard Brown, who has faced stiff criticism over the company's handling of the crisis, said limited service would resume today and pledged that "we will be doing our very best to get everyone home by Christmas."
Priority will be given to those stranded for days, as well as to the elderly and people with children, said Petrovic, the Eurostar operations chief.