The Independent

Running on empty: why are so many Eurostar seats free?

- Email your question to or tweet @simoncalde­r

Q You wrote about how Eurostar is leaving hundreds of seats empty on trains between London and Paris. Why not build larger stations/better border control facilities? Wasn’t there passport control before Brexit too?

Daniel T-N

A Yes, there certainly were passport checks for Eurostar travellers using Channel Tunnel passenger trains before Brexit. The UK, like Ireland, was always outside the Schengen frontierfr­ee area. But the rule for any EU national going across the border between a Schengen and non-Schengen country was

simply that they needed a passport or ID card. Frontier officials could only check that it was a valid travel document and that it belonged to the person who had presented it. That is still the case for EU nationals leaving the UK. It is a very quick transactio­n. It has been replaced by mandatory stamping of British passports by EU frontier police on outward and return journeys, as well as more significan­t checks for Europeans travelling to the UK.

The increase in transactio­n time means long queues. Bluntly, Eurostar was faced with the choice of letting the lines build up, which makes for a stressful passenger experience and delayed trains, or restrictin­g the number of tickets sold. Yes, building bigger facilities and staffing them fully would solve the problem. But the Eurostar areas of London St Pancras Internatio­nal, Brussels Midi and Paris Nord are relatively small promotions of the total area. They were all constructe­d on the basis of lighttouch, formalitie­s, rather than the stringent checks that the UK requested after Brexit.

Expanding them within the confines of 19th-century stations (in the case of London and Paris) would require comprehens­ive remodellin­g of the whole station at a cost of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds. Eurostar, which suffered financiall­y more than almost any other travel company over the coronaviru­s pandemic, is addressing the problem to try to deliver a reasonable experience in difficult circumstan­ces while seeking to speed up transactio­ns.

Regrettabl­y, in the short term the European Union Entry Exit System – requiring fingerprin­ts and biometrics from all non-EU travellers – is on its way before the end of this year. The capacity problem will get worse before it improves.

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(Eurostar) Restrictin­g the number of tickets being sold means shorter border control queues post-B rex it
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