Post-Brexit border controls have slowed the speed at which Eurostar passengers pass through London St Pancras on their way to Paris, reducing the terminal’s capacity by a third, according to the cross-border rail company’s boss.
The rail operator’s chief executive, Jacques Damas, said central London had only avoided the kind of chaos and queues seen at Channel ports this summer because Eurostar was running fewer trains.
He said the additional border checks now required, where British citizens must have their passports stamped, added at least 15 seconds per trip. passenger. At London St Pancras International, even after upgrading the border gates and with all stands staffed, the operator could only process a maximum of 1,500 passengers an hour, compared with 2,200 before the Brexit transition period ended, Damas said.
Damas outlined Eurostar’s problems in a letter to Conservative MP Huw Merriman, the chairman of the Commons Transport Select Committee, who had requested an explanation for Eurostar cutting services to Kent stations and stopping its direct Disneyland Paris route from London next year.
He told Merriman: “It is only the fact that Eurostar has capacity-constrained trains and significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels that we are not seeing daily queues in central London similar to those experienced in the Channel ports.”
The company would not resume operations at either of its Kent stations – Ashford and Ebbsfleet – until at least 2025, to concentrate “vital border policing” at St. Pancras, said Damas.
The chief executive, who is due to hand over the reins next week to Gwendoline Cazenave, said Eurostar was also hampered by high UK track charges on the Channel route, three times more expensive per mile than it pays in France.
Its finances were further hit by the government’s refusal to offer state-backed loans – which the airlines received – during the Covid pandemic, Damas said, and he warned that prices would remain high for the foreseeable future. Eurostar is now paying high interest rates of around DKK 500 million. € (£450m) in commercial debt incurred to ensure its survival as passenger revenue disappeared during the travel ban.
There could be more problems in store for the operator when the EU brings in the EES, the entry and exit system, next year.
Damas said the system “hangs over us” and is expected to mean travelers from non-EU countries, now including Britain, will have to have their fingerprints scanned and a photo taken to register them on a database, as well as ultimately paying a fee to visit the EU.
He added that on the UK side in particular there was “significant uncertainty about customers’ ability to pay in the context of current and expected cost of living pressures. At the same time, the company itself faces almost £100m of increased inflationary pressures.”
He warned that he had a duty to “secure the future of my company [and] not convincing.”
The British government controversially sold its stake in Eurostar, the “green link” to Europe, to private pension funds in 2015.