Spanish rail operator seeks to provide Channel tunnel service


Spain’s state-owned railway company Renfe plans to operate a new high-speed rail link between London and Paris, a move that would place it in direct competition with Eurostar.

Renfe said he believed a competing channel tunnel service would be both “viable and profitable”, and added that he received early support from Channel Tunnel operator Getlink and of HS1, the British high-speed rail group that owns and operates London stations and tracks at the tunnel.

“Until Covid-19, this high-speed corridor had high traffic and was growing, a trend that is expected to pick up next year. According to the demand analysis carried out, it would be viable and profitable for Renfe to compete with Eurostar, ”said Renfe.

HS1 said it welcomes Renfe’s interest and that more competition will provide more options for people who choose not to fly. Eurostar welcomed the competition and said it “was ready to see a new operator arrive on one of our routes for a long time”.

Operator Getlink said: “The tunnel has always offered open access to rail operators and provides an attractive, low-carbon route for travel and commerce. “

Eurostar does not have a monopoly on rail services connecting London and the continent, but has never faced competition on international journeys.

This allowed it to focus on competing with airlines on routes such as London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Eurostar was profitable before the pandemic but has seen its business devastated by travel restrictions. In May, it secured a £ 250million bailout from shareholders, including the French government, to help keep it operational.

While the movement of trains from the UK to the mainland is technically relatively straightforward, the border infrastructure needed to carry out passport and security checks at stations has stifled the growth of high-speed rail between the UK and Europe.

Eurostar trains at St Pancras International in London © Jason Alden / Bloomberg

Deutsche Bahn, the German public rail operator, had hoped to operate services between London and Frankfurt, but the plan never materialized.

Jon Worth, a European rail commentator, said Renfe’s plan was “a long plan but not impossible”.

“Renfe is about the only company that would be able to do this. . . there is no one else who has suitable rolling stock and who is not otherwise connected to SNCF [the French rail company that owns 55 per cent of Eurostar],” he said.

Renfe said she believes she can get a return on her investment within four years and will focus on operating between London and Paris before exploring more distant routes.

The continental European rail market has been liberalized in recent years and Renfe faces competition in its domestic market for new services, including one set up by SNCF.

In response, the Spanish company has sought to expand internationally, including acquiring 50% of Czech private operator Leo Express earlier this year.