A lot of my time as the Red Arrows Public Relations Officer was spent in organising and hosting visits to the Team by members of the public and by so-called ‘corporate visitors’. One series of corporate visits, with Virgin Trains, provided me with two exciting days out on trains. On 02 October 1998 I spent a day with Brian Barrett who was then Chief Executive of Virgin Trains. I met Brian at Euston and we travelled in the cab on the West Coast Main Line to Preston. The Labour Party annual conference was in full swing at Blackpool and one of the guests there was Lew Adams, who had recently joined Virgin Trains as the Millennium Drivers Training Manager, after being voted out of his job as General Secretary of the railway union ASLEF. What Lew did not know was that on arrival at Preston he would be naming a Virgin high speed locomotive 'The Black Prince' - one of his nicknames. After the naming ceremony I travelled back to London in the train with Lew and Brian ‘on the cushions’, aka First Class.
During the train journey south I arranged for both Brian and Lew and a group of Virgin’s Millennium Drivers to visit the Red Arrows on 19 February 1999. Over lunch during that visit to Cranwell, the conversation turned to Eurostar. I happened to mention that I would never go on Eurostar because I have always hated tunnels, even short ones such as the Mersey Tunnels, let alone one under the English Channel. I know it’s ridiculous but it’s a phobia I’ve had for as long as I can remember. Lew immediately challenged me to take a trip with him to Paris and back in the cab of a Eurostar express. In spite of my hatred of tunnels it was an offer I could not resist. The trip took place a few weeks later on 27 April 1999. There were three of us in the cab in addition to Tim Reeves the driver: a senior driving manager as required by the rules with visitors in the cab; Lew Adams; and me. Since there is only one seat, the three of us had to stand all the way. I have to say that I was extremely uneasy on entering the tunnel at Folkestone and mightily relieved when we came out into daylight some minutes later. The journey, apart from that, was fascinating and most enjoyable and we arrived in Paris’ Gard du Nord exactly on time. We just had time in Paris for a quick lunch together before it was time to return to the train for the return journey.
Halfway through the tunnel on the return journey there was a total failure of the electrical supply from the overhead cables. The train was left with emergency lighting and just sufficient power in the batteries to bring the train to a halt. As the driver brought the train gently to a stand-still he explained the white lines painted at intervals on the tunnel walls. He was required to halt the train when his side window was exactly in line with one set of the white lines because that meant that the train’s passenger doors would be lined up with exits into the emergency tunnel – should an evacuation become necessary. The driver told the Train Manager what had happened on the internal telephone and then spoke to Train Control in Calais (in French) on the radio. The fault was cleared so rapidly that I momentarily had a suspicion that the event had been organised especially for me. We resumed the journey after being stationary for about 5 minutes by which time I was working myself into quite a sweat.
Eurostar wouldn’t have arranged an emergency stop inside the tunnel just because I was on board, would they? Of course not!
16 of my images, with captions, click on the thumbnails to enlarge each image.