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Eurostar ‘will overcome Brexit challenges’ says boss

By Julian Shea in London | | Updated: 2019-02-27 02:33
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Tulips sit in front of a Eurostar train bound for Amsterdam at St Pancras station in London, Britain Feb 20, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

Passport checks may cause huge passenger queues

The chief of Eurostar’s largest shareholder has told French media he is confident the company will manage to provide a smooth service despite potential disruption caused by a no-deal Brexit.

Guillaume Pepy is the head of French national rail company SNCF, which has a 55 percent stake in the railway service that connects London with cities in Northern Europe including Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Currently, as European Union citizens, United Kingdom nationals are able to enter France via electronic passport checks.

However, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, if no alternative arrangements are put in place by March 29, unless France increases staff for manual passport checks even checks of just 21 seconds could soon result in queues of up to 2,000 passengers.

If French checks were to take 75 seconds per person, analysis by Britain’s Department for Transport estimates the backlog of passengers at London St Pancras Station could reach as high as 15,000 people.

Pepy told reporters he was “well aware that the devil will be in the details”, and that some services may be halted, but that the company was working to do what it could to ensure services remained as problem-free as possible.

“The fundamentals to run Eurostar are there even if there is no deal,” he said. “Then, in concrete terms, we shall have to see how things are organized at (Eurostar’s Paris terminal) Gare du Nord, and St Pancras regarding identity and customs checks.”

Pepy said that if the control system was to cause delays, Eurostar would have to face a decision on whether to “hold back the train a few minutes or send people on their way in the following train”.

The Financial Times newspaper quoted a British government source as saying that the “only conceivable response” would be a 40 percent to 60 percent reduction in Eurostar services.

But a Department for Transport spokesperson told the paper: “The government continues to work towards a (Brexit) deal and we are confident that we will have agreements in place to ensure cross-channel rail services continue after Brexit.

“We are working closely with industry to develop sensible contingency plans which ensure that the Eurostar and domestic rail services continue running.”

As early as last October, government contingency papers for a possible no-deal Brexit said that without specific arrangements made with France and Belgium, Eurostar services could end up being suspended.

Britain is scheduled to leave the 28-member European Union on March 29, but Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to come up with withdrawal terms that have won the approval of Parliament, leading to fears over a no-deal Brexit.

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