New rail services could drive down cross-Channel train fares
Kent News: 06/05/2007
A new cross-Channel rail service to compete directly with Eurostar could be launched within the next three years.
Air France-KLM is reportedly considering setting up its own London to Paris high-speed train service.
Airlines want to muscle in on the lucrative international rail travel market that will be freed up in 2010.
It is hoped a rival operator would lead to increased services and cheaper prices for Kent passengers.
Rail passenger groups and MPs welcomed the prospect of extra competition in international rail.
“I am in favour of competition,” said Damian Green, the Conservative MP for Ashford.
“If it is feasible then another cross-Channel service could provide a lot of benefits.”
There has been considerable anger at Eurostar over its controversial decision to cut services at Ashford International station.
The Railfuture pressure group said Eurostar had “lost touch” with its ordinary users and was concentrating on its business commuters from London to Paris.
Railfuture EU rail spokesman Ian MacDonald said: “The time has past when rail operators could ignore the thoughts of the public and do whatever they want.
“If a rival train operator wants to form a service that will include more stops at places like Ashford, we would give it our full support, particularly if it brings fares down.”
Eurostar charges its UK customers more money for tickets than EU counterparts, it was claimed this week.
The operator, a partnership between Eurostar (UK), French railway SNCF and Belgian railway SNCB, currently dominates the market for rail trips between the UK and France.
Industry insiders claimed this week the French and Dutch partnership Air France-KLM and possibly other airlines plan to capitalize on new rules allowing more cross-border passenger rail services in the EU from 2010.
It was reported Air France-KLM intends to launch its own train service between London and Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris.
Under current EU legislation, nearly all rail companies are forbidden from operating passenger services across Europe's internal borders.
But Eurostar and the French, Belgian and Dutch high-speed rail network Thalys are excluded.
This rule will be relaxed in 2010 allowing dozens of EU rail operators and airlines to launch new high-speed services across Europe.
Last year, Eurostar carried 7.85million passengers between the UK, France and Belgium, and holds more than 70 per cent of the London to Paris market.
Air France and SNCF declined to comment.
A Eurostar UK spokesman said its British prices were “broadly comparable” to those on the Continent.