Tunnel rival ‘no good to us’
TRAINS CAMPAIGN: Protestor says rolling stock would be too expensive – and 2010 is far too late
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.”
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.
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