The weekend's chaotic scenes on the Eurostar service from the UK to France and Belgium need little introduction given the widespread coverage in the mainstream media.
As it stands, services from London St Pancras International to Paris and Brussels are suspended as engineers attempt to work out what went wrong on Friday night and Saturday amid calls for a full investigation.
There was plenty of hand-wringing over the weekend about the failure of Eurostar officials to communicate to passengers what was going on via Twitter - a perfectly acceptable but inevitably and solely Twitter-driven level of outrage curiously not seen on the same scale earlier in the week when FlyGlobespan collapsed.
The reality is that Eurostargate (the events have probably been given that name by a national newspaper somewhere) is far more serious than just how the digerati felt Twitter might have been used to contact people waiting for relatives stuck on the trains (although, yes, it should've been used as ANOTHER communication channel).
The most important elements of the debacle are as follows:
- Why did six hi-tech trains break down in such circumstances? Some might argue that this isn't the first time England and France have experienced extremely cold weather in the 15 years of operation by Eurostar.
- Why did the evacuation procedures on one of the newest and, once again, technologically advanced lines and state-of-the-art tunnels in the world appear to fail so spectacularly?
- Why did Eurotunnel, which runs freight and passenger services between Folkestone and Calais, appear to stay in the background and attempt to blame everyone else [as this press release indicates]? [NB: More on this from Eurostarclient]
- Why was the wider communications strategy (on the train and to the wider world) so mediocre given that a few thousand people were trapped in the tunnel? There are already calls for the heads of the PR team, a department run by Simon Montague, himself a former-BBC journalist.
In Eurostar's defence, since the weekend it has massively improved its communications with the outside world, including a rapidly put together YouTube apology from its rather uncomfortable-looking CEO Richard Brown
Once again, search and the social web played an influential part during the events.
Twitter, inevitably, came into its own with advice being passed on between travellers expecting to head to France or vice versa in the days following the breakdown.
But, with equal predictability, misinformation and blatant messing about played a part, posing questions once again as how to make real-time results in search engines more relevant and trustworthy.
Meanwhile, Eurostar's website may have been slow off the mark initially but by the morning after the incident it was providing some (but not a huge amount of) information for travellers.
The site saw almost a 250% increase in traffic on Saturday 19 December from the previous day, according to Experian Hitwise UK.
There is an argument that in such extreme circumstances a static site should kick in automatically, removing the various (and sometimes download-heavy) widgets and tools. In Eurostar's case it simply posted a message at the top of the site, indicating what services were running, or not.
The long-term impact of the weekend's shenanigans is debatable. Eurostar has a monopoly on the service between the three city centres and is, except in recent circumstances, generally well-liked by passengers.
NB: Experian Hitwise UK data below shows the top 20 search terms relating "eurostar" for the week ending Saturday 19 December 2009.