British billionaire Sir Richard Branson is reported to be planning to launch a London-Paris train service to rival Eurostar, which could see additional trains and cut-price tickets for travellers.
The mogul’s Virgin group managed lines on the UK rail network for over 20 years, and is allegedly now looking to bring that experience forward to create a new cross-Channel service.
Trains would also run between London and Brussels, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam, mirroring current Eurostar routes.
A spokesperson for the Virgin Group said the company does not “comment on rumours or speculation,” but it seems that plans may be in motion, and a publicity stunt by Mr Branson at St Pancras station (the current Eurostar terminus in London) is expected in the coming days.
Another rival to the Eurostar – Spanish firm Evolyn – is also looking to buy trains and launch their own London-Paris service in 2025.
Competition on route welcomed
The increase in competition on the line would be welcomed not only by passengers who are likely to see a drop in ticket fares due to the increased competition but also the Channel Tunnel owners themselves.
Getlink, the operators of the tunnel, says that the current infrastructure allows for roughly double the number of trains to run through per day than are currently scheduled.
The company has also recently invested in expanding the tunnel’s infrastructure, and said they would “welcome growth in traffic through the Channel Tunnel whether from the current incumbent, Eurostar, or from new entrants to the market.”
Since the launch of the Eurostar in 1994, it has held a quasi-monopoly on passenger services running through the tunnel.
Changes to European law, however, mean that rail routes across France, including the tunnel, are now open to competitive tenders.
RENFE, the state-owned Spanish rail operator, has already opened a number of international routes, and plans to open domestic lines between Paris and Lyon, following in TrenItalia’s footsteps.
Move mirrors Virgin Atlantic’s conquest of air routes
UK Media outlet The Telegraph said the move would mirror Mr Branson’s exploits with Virgin Atlantic, when the airline took on the established British Airways group in the trans-Atlantic flight market.
However, alongside Virgin and Evolyn, other players could look to run trains on the line, which has been earmarked as a potentially lucrative route.
Many passengers are eco-friendly and prefer not to fly – but are put off by prices – and those who prefer the ease of arriving in the heart of the country’s capitals as opposed to regional airports like Charles de Gaulle or Luton.
RENFE are reportedly interested in the route and The Telegraph reports that two new companies could make an official bid in the coming weeks.