Click here. Several readers expressed the view that although they liked the idea, they doubted it would come to reality. A new development announced last week brings the dream a lot closer.
Spanish national train operator Renfe last week announced plans to apply to use the Channel tunnel and compete with Eurostar from London. They said competing with Eurostar can be ‘viable and profitable’. Renfe are one of the most advanced high speed train operators in Europe and adding to their services at a remarkable rate.
I always assumed that Eurostar owned the channel tunnel, but they don’t, it’s now owned and operated by Getlink the European company that operates the Channel tunnel – and HS1, which owns, runs and maintains the 109km rail line between the Channel tunnel and St Pancras International in London. It added that both businesses were “well positioned in France and very interested in the project’s development”.
Eurostar’s boss has dismissed the threat of Spain running services through the Channel Tunnel, claiming red tape means it will take years for a rival rail operator to get up and running. They would say that wouldn’t they. However, HS1, which owns the tracks that Eurostar uses, is holding talks with a clutch of foreign train operators to convince them to launch rival international train services to the UK.
Demand for rail instead of flying growing
Capacity through the Channel tunnel isn’t a problem either, Dyan Crowther, HS1 chief executive, said “There is enough spare capacity on the line to double the number of services coming from the Continent”. “There is certainly a strong appetite within Europe,” she added. “The EU is pushing and promoting policy to favour international rail over aviation.
As we become more aware about global warming, there is a strong, and growing, appetite from the traveling public to switch to rail, as long as it would be fast, comfortable and convenient.
Give Paris a miss
One of the major problems is Paris. It is an enormous hub for the European high speed network. Even when I wrote the article about the development of high speed rail in Europe, the obvious challenge was that to get onto the European network you had to get to Paris first and change trains and stations.
That could now change. Eurostar already operate a direct service from London to Lyon avoiding changing stations in Paris completely. The service runs up to four times a week in the summer, but it exists. Freedom of the skies revolutionised air travel as independent operators could offer service wherever there was a demand. Now freedom of the rails is developing throughout Europe and new operators are challenging the nationally owned train operators. If there is a demand, there are operators willing to offer what the public wants. It’s becoming very clear that the demand for rail as opposed to air travel is growing at a fast pace.
Paddington to Spain direct
If Renfe can get the OK to depart from London via the Channel Tunnel, you can be very sure they will be developing direct services into Spain, that’s their centre of operation. Portugal should be on the list very soon as high-speed links are already being upgraded from existing lines. Madrid Lisbon is a main target for a HGV link. Portugal's government announced on last January that the high-speed rail link between Lisbon and Madrid, which will be completed by December 2023, it is under construction to "connect the country" and not just the Portuguese and Spanish capitals.
There is one simple reality in the commercial world we live it, where there is a demand, there will be companies willing to meet it. The only thing that stops this is when governments won’t permit free competition. In most of Europe that’s not the case. In France Ouigo is operating one class low cost services, in Spain OUIGO trains now operate on the route from Barcelona to Madrid. Avlo, operate high speed low cost services. FlixTrain in Germany, Italo in Italy, RegioJet in the Czech Republic. Competition on the rail networks is here to stay. The old expression says ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’, now it’s ‘where there’s a passenger, there is a way’.