Spanish rail reveals plans for high-speed London to Paris link

State operator Renfe says Channel tunnel service competing with Eurostar can be ‘viable and profitable’

Spain’s state rail company, Renfe, has announced initial plans to compete with Eurostar by operating a high-speed Channel tunnel line to shuttle travellers between Paris and London.

Renfe said studies had shown that the Eurotunnel route, which opened in 1994, could be profitable and workable over the coming years.

“At the moment, there are available slots and capacity to operate on the high-speed line,” it said in a statement on Wednesday. “This high-speed corridor has high traffic and was growing until Covid-19 – a trend that is set to recover next year. According to demand analysis, it would be viable and profitable for Renfe to compete with Eurostar.”

The Spanish company noted that Eurotunnel’s Paris-London route was used by 9 million travellers in 2019, and that 7 million of them had taken the Eurostar passenger train, which connects the two cities in about two hours and 12 minutes.

“Renfe’s aim is to operate its own product, meaning the first step would be the standardisation of trains,” the statement said. “The business plan is built around the use of at least seven trains, and estimates suggest a return on the investment after four years.”

Renfe said a second phase could include a service to new French and international destinations, adding that operating between London and Paris would boost its international reputation.

The rail company said it had already received support from Getlink – the European company that operates the Channel tunnel – and from 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”.

Renfe did not provide a timeframe for the new service, saying only that it had begun “initial contacts” to be able to compete with Eurostar. Some previous attempts at international expansion have run into difficulties.

In July 2019, the company expressed a desire to launch into French routes that had been newly opened to competition, with a high-speed service running between Marseille and Lyon. However, it ended up complaining of “numerous obstacles”.

Its French counterpart SNCF – which holds a 55% stake in Eurostar International Limited – is already operating in the Spanish market with its low-cost Ouigo line linking Madrid and Barcelona, which was inaugurated in May, and in which it invested €600m.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report


Sam Jones in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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