Tun­nel ri­val ‘no good to us’

TRAINS CAM­PAIGN: Pro­tes­tor says rolling stock would be too ex­pen­sive – and 2010 is far too late

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - FRONT PAGE - by Nick Cullen

THE cam­paigner lead­ing the fight to keep full Eurostar ser­vices run­ning from Ash­ford this week poured cold wa­ter over hopes a ri­val train op­er­a­tor would res­cue the town’s in­ter­na­tional sta­tion.

Edith Rob­son, a re­tired French teacher from Willes­bor­ough, has mo­bilised more than 8,000 peo­ple in op­po­si­tion to plans that will see all Brus­sels trains and many Paris trains stop­ping at Ebb­s­fleet in north Kent in­stead of Ash­ford.

Eurostar, which has a gov­ern- ment-granted mo­nop­oly on trains be­tween Bri­tain and France, has re­fused to budge on its de­ci­sion, de­spite pres­sure from politi­cians and the pub­lic.

But last week, Guillaume Pepy, the head of French na­tional rail ser­vice SNCF, which op­er­ates in­ter­na­tional trains in France, and part-owns Eurostar, raised hopes an­other com­pany would soon be run­ning trains through the Chan­nel Tun­nel.

He said Europe’s big­gest air­line, Air France-KLM, was con­sid­er­ing set­ting up its own train ser­vice when the rules giv­ing Eurostar its mo­nop­oly are re­laxed in three years.

This prompted cau­tious ex­cite­ment in Ash­ford. Bor­ough coun­cil leader Paul Clokie wel­comed the idea, say­ing: “Ob­vi­ously if it comes about it would be very good news for Ash­ford.”

God­send

But Mrs Rob­son said th­ese hopes were faint. She said: “I am sure some peo­ple will think this story about a pos­si­ble com­peti­tor to Eurostar might be a god­send. This is a smoke­screen.

“Eurostar trains are built to an ex­tremely high spec­i­fi­ca­tion to pro­vide safety through the tun­nel and are thus in­or­di­nately ex­pen­sive. No other trains have as high a spec.

“No oth­ers ex­ist which would be per­mit­ted to travel through the tun­nel. I doubt whether a com­peti­tor would be able to af­ford to con­struct sim­i­lar trains.

“The spare sets are leased to SNCF which is part of the Eurostar con­sor­tium and not there­fore likely to lease them to a po­ten­tial com­peti­tor.

She added: “Who can af­ford to wait un­til 2010 any­way? Pas­sen­gers need the ser­vices now.”

Both Mr Clokie and Ash­ford MP Damian Green said they would work to en­cour­age com­peti­tors to Eurostar. Mr Clokie said: “If we can, be­hind the scenes, get in touch with direc­tors to make the pos­si­bil­ity be­come a re­al­ity, then we will do that.”

Mr Green said: “I’m sure all those who have been try­ing to per­suade Eurostar to stay will be try­ing hard to per­suade oth­ers about the virtues of Ash­ford In­ter­na­tional.”

Gareth Headon, from Eurostar, said: “We wel­come any com­pe­ti­tion, ei­ther now or in the fu­ture.”

Air-France KLM, which is the largest air­line com­pany in the world by op­er­at­ing rev­enue, did not com­ment on the ru­mours.

Our Man in West­min­ster and com­ment - see page 10.

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