Eurostar monopoly at risk as major rival to launch new Channel Tunnel Paris-London route

Eurostar ‘cannot be allowed to collapse’ says Irish MEP

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Spanish national railway operator, Renfe, has reportedly expressed interest in the route between London and Paris, where Eurostar currently has a monopoly. It is believed the operator will bid for available slots in the Channel Tunnel.

Speaking to the Spanish daily El Pais, Renfe told Agence France-Presse: “Renfe wants to operate on the Paris-London high-speed line through the Eurotunnel, and has already started initial contacts to compete with Eurostar.

“At the moment there are available paths and capacity to operate on the high-speed line.”

They added: “In a second phase, the service could be extended to new French and international destinations.”

The Eurostar links Paris and London in two hours and 15mins through the Channel Tunnel, which opened in 1994.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the rail link served nearly nine million passengers annually.

However, train traffic has fallen sharply since 2020 due to the pandemic.

But Renfe claimed the service was “growing until COVID-19” and should “return to this trend next year”.

This is not the first time the Spanish company has expressed a desire to enter the French market.

Back in 2019, Renfe was looking to run a high-speed service between Marseille and Lyon.

It has since denounced “numerous obstacles” to its plans.

In May this year, Eurostar’s annual revenues plummeted from £1billion (€1.1billion) in 2019 to about £180milllion (€208million) in 2020, while passenger numbers have plunged by 95 percent from the 11 million people who travelled on its trains in 2019.

It received £400million (€450million) as well as a cash injection of £170million (€197million) from its owners.

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This led to speculation the UK may help rescue the struggling company, with several French politicians calling for a joint London-Paris solution.

Earlier this year, French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told a committee the state would “be there at Eurostar’s side to maintain this strategic link between our two countries”.

He said the French Government was working with its UK counterparts on “mechanisms for aid, proportional to everyone’s involvement in Eurostar.”

This came despite the UK selling its stake in the rail firm for over £750million in what then-Chancellor George Osborne described as a “fantastic deal”.

The UK Government announced it was selling its 40 percent stake in the cross-Channel train operator Eurostar to an Anglo-Canadian consortium for £757.1million in 2015.

Under the deal, Patina Rail LLP acquired the UK Treasury’s entire share of the high-speed rail service.

The French and Belgian national railways continue to own the rest.

Professor Begg previously told Express.co.uk: “There two aspects to this – one is whether there is an obligation or an interest to support Eurostar.

“There is no obligation in the sense that it’s a company owned by French and Belgian railways as well as a hedge fund in Canada, but it may be in Britain’s interest because Brits find the service desirable.

“The next question is if it is not rescued, will something replace it or will there be uncertainty?

“Will there be a lack of connectivity between the UK and the continent?

“I think the danger is that there could be a lack of decision which would make things very difficult.”

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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