UK-France Eurostar capacity cut by a third due to post-Brexit checks

Eurostar has reduced capacity at its London St Pancras terminal by a third due to increased wait times due to post-Brexit controls, thereby avoiding the long queues at terminals like Dover, the operator said.

Since the UK left the EU, border control officers have had to verify that British travelers entering the bloc are not exceeding their 90-day limit, that their passports are still valid for three months once they leave the bloc and are under 10 years old and to stamp the document.

They are also theoretically obliged to ask whether the traveler has travel insurance, a return ticket and sufficient funds for their trip, although in practice this is rarely the case.

Read more: Explainer: How has Brexit changed UK passport controls at EU borders?

This process takes around 15-30 seconds longer than the quick glance at the passport, which was common practice before Brexit when British citizens had the right to move freely within the EU.

At the Eurostar terminal, this means that even when all passport desks are manned, border guards can handle at most 1,500 passengers an hour, compared to 2,200 when the UK was in the EU.

So says the operator’s chief executive Jacques Damas, who said Eurostar only managed to avoid the long queues at terminals like the Port of Dover in the summer by reducing the number of train seats on offer.

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“We are installing an additional French control booth in London (where space is extremely limited). However, as of today, peak station capacity is around 30% lower than before Brexit,” he said.

Read more: Dover Port Queues: A One-off or Long-Term Problem?

Read more: French minister’s reaction to Dover: Don’t blame us for Brexit

Mr Damas wrote to Huw Merriman, the Conservative Chair of the Transport Select Committee, who had asked him to explain why Eurostar had suspended services from Kent stations and suspended its route to Disneyland Paris from 2023. This service started operating in 1996.

Read more: Eurostar cancels London-Disneyland Paris direct train in June 2023

Mr Damas said: “It is just the fact that Eurostar has limited capacity trains and has significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels that we are not seeing daily queues in central London akin to those in the English Channel ports.

“This situation has obvious commercial consequences and is unsustainable in the medium to long term.

“But the immediate consequence is that we are currently unable to respond to the high demand on our core routes between capitals.

He also confirmed that Eurostar would not stop at Ashford and Ebbsfleet again until at least 2025 in order to concentrate “vital border policing” resources at London St Pancras.

EU Entry/Exit System “Floating”

Mr Damas also said that the launch of the EU’s new Entry/Exit System (EES) next year will also pose problems for Eurostar.

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This system requires people entering the EU from non-EU countries to have their passport and biometric data, including fingerprint scans, taken so that they can be registered in a database. This allows the authorities to automatically determine how many days the traveler is allowed to stay in the EU.

The implementation of EES, which will require significant infrastructure adjustments, “is hanging over us,” explained Mr. Damas.

Read more: Logistical concerns about the EU entry/exit system

worry about finances

Eurostar has incurred significant costs recently as track maintenance and replacement costs are three times higher in the UK than on the French side.

This comes after the operator saw its revenue fall by 95% during the Covid crisis as it was denied government loans and therefore forced to pay high interest rates on the £500million debt it had accumulated.

Read more: Eurostar cancels London-Disneyland Paris direct train in June 2023

Mr Damas said that “we have been hampered by the lack of maintenance technicians at our main Temple Mills depot in Stratford in recent months.

“As a result, some of our train sets are not ready on time, causing delays in departure with consequences lasting days.

“Eurostar has not laid off operational staff during the pandemic but we have struggled to replace those who have left and this has created a gap in numbers and expertise.

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“To counteract this, we have hired more than 40 maintenance technicians since the spring. This factor, which under normal circumstances could have forced us to limit our schedule, is not the case because limit restrictions are heavier.

“I am confident that we will overcome it in the coming months as we control how we deal with it.

“The combination of the two key short-term factors above means that despite returning to travel, Eurostar is currently unable to pursue a strategy of volume and growth.

“We need to focus on the core routes that make the maximum contribution per train and charge our customers higher prices.”

Mr Damas said fares will remain elevated for some time as a result of this situation.

In connection with the British cost of living crisis, there is “considerable uncertainty about the ability of customers to pay”. At the same time, Eurostar faces “nearly £100m in increased inflationary pressures”.

“As CEO, I have a duty to make the right decision and secure the future of my company. So I’m careful not to overdo it,” he added.

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