Eurostar ri­val would be wel­come

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - OPINION -

IT is in­trigu­ing that a ri­val to Eurostar is said to be emerg­ing, as ru­mours spread that Air France-KLM wants to set up a ri­val ser­vice through the Chan­nel Tun­nel. Com­pe­ti­tion would be good for pas­sen­gers, and would of­fer a chance for ser­vices to be ex­panded from Ash­ford, in sharp con­trast to the cuts planned by Eurostar. At one level, this looks plau­si­ble. The Euro­pean Union is try­ing to in­crease com­pe­ti­tion on in­ter­na­tional rail routes, and will want to see new en­trants. And short-haul air travel is likely to be­come more ex­pen­sive as en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sid­er­a­tions be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant. How­ever, long ex­pe­ri­ence of the rail in­dus­try means I am cau­tious about any al­leged break­through un­til it ac­tu­ally oc­curs. There are prac­ti­cal is­sues which may in­trude. One is the fran­chise is­sue, as Eurostar has a le­gal mo­nop­oly on ser­vices at present. The other is about rolling stock. Trains through the tun­nel need to be built us­ing a spe­cial de­sign, and since the French na­tional rail­way com­pany SNCF is part-owner of Eurostar, and there­fore the ef­fec­tive owner of the de­sign, it may be dif­fi­cult for a ri­val op­er­a­tor to move in. The tim­ing of all this is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing for us in Ash­ford, as Eurostar seems to be re­main­ing adamant in its de­ter­mi­na­tion to cut the Ash­ford-Brus­sels ser­vice. I have one more meet­ing planned with the Trans­port Min­is­ter next month, in an at­tempt to per­suade him to put his de­part­ment’s weight be­hind the cam­paign to keep Ash­ford ser­vices. Per­haps the prospect of some com­pe­ti­tion will con­cen­trate minds at Eurostar, and en­cour­age them to ex­pand their cus­tomer base in­stead of con­tract­ing it. We must hope so.

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