Brexit has lower Eurostar capability by 30 per cent, says chief government

The additional passport checks the UK requested after leaving the EU are “not sustainable”: that’s the damning view of Jacques Damas, outgoing chief government of Eurostar.

The boss of the cross-Channel practice operator revealed that post-Brexit border preparations have diminished capability on hyperlinks from London to Brussels and Paris by one-third – forcing Eurostar “to charge higher prices to our customers”.

Earlier this month Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, wrote to Eurostar expressing concern in regards to the impression of the continued closure of Ebbsfleet and Ashford worldwide stations in Kent. Trains for Brussels and Paris ended their calls there because the coronavirus pandemic started.

They won’t open till 2025 on the earliest. Eurostar can be ditching direct trains to Disneyland Paris in June 2023.

In his response to the parliamentary committee, Mr Damas spelt out in devastating element the harm attributable to Brexit to worldwide rail journey to and from the UK.

His letter, which Mr Merriman has printed, begins: “I fully appreciate the disappointment felt by many at the continued closure of the Kent stations and, indeed, the recent announcements regarding Disneyland Paris – a popular destination for many of our British customers, including those previously from Ashford.

“I also appreciate the economic impact of such a decision on the South East and the loss of choice for individual travellers. I can understand that people contrast these decisions with the recovery in travel this year and question why we have not moved to re-open the stations.”

While monetary constraints and engineering points have been partly accountable, Mr Damas defined that Brexit has lower Eurostar capability by 30 per cent – just because the brand new passport necessities take time and require more room.

“Additional border checks apply to UK citizens seeking to enter Schengen, as they do to all ‘third country nationals’. Since around 40 per cent of our customers are UK nationals, this has resulted in a significant increase in the processing times at stations.

“The stamping of British passports by Continental police adds at least 15 seconds to individual passengers’ border crossing times.

“Even with all booths manned, St Pancras can currently process a maximum 1,500 passengers per hour versus 2,200 in 2019.

“It is only the fact that Eurostar has capacity-limited trains and significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels, that we are not seeing daily queues in the centre of London similar to those experienced in the Channel ports.

“This situation has obvious commercial consequences and is not sustainable in the mid-to-long term.”

With provide so constrained, mentioned Mr Damas, “we are currently not able to respond to the high demand on our core routes linking capital cities”.

He defined that reopening the intermediate stations, the place demand and common fares are a lot decrease, “would make things even worse as it would take away from London vital border police resources”.

Officials on the massive terminals – London, Brussels and Paris – deal with 5 or 10 occasions extra passengers at Eurostar’s massive terminals than in intermediate stations.

The rapid consequence, Mr Damas writes: “Despite the return to travel, Eurostar cannot currently pursue a strategy of volume and growth. We are having to focus services on those core routes which make the maximum contribution per train and to charge higher prices to our customers.

“The whole focus of this effort is to manage and reduce the debts we had to incur; there is no prospect of any dividends to shareholders until this is done.”

Mr Damas revealed the extreme monetary harm attributable to the pandemic, throughout which shareholders put £250m into the enterprise – nearly twice as a lot as the overall dividends since Eurostar was created.

Revenues have been lower by 95 per cent for 15 months in 2020-21, and the Omicron wave in December 2021 and early 2022 value Eurostar at the very least €50m (£43m) extra.

“Eurostar needed to find an additional £500m in commercial debt in order to survive,” he mentioned.

Mr Damas added: “The uncertainty regarding the EU’s Entry Exit System (EES) – much discussed with the committee – hangs over us.”

The withdrawal settlement negotiated by the UK and the European Union means British travellers to the EU shall be photographed and fingerprinted from November 2023, including to the transaction time.

In response, Mr Merriman tweeted: “The transport committee will write to the new rail minister [Kevin Foster] and the rail regulator for observations and interventions to support Eurostar – a vital cog in our transport system.”

The Independent has requested the Department for Transport and the Home Office for a response.

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