Eurostar rival would be welcome
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.