Eurostar says it will not resume services from Calais-Fréthun station in 2023. Eurostar trains have not stopped in Calais, or Ashford and Ebbsfleet in Kent, since the Covid pandemic started in March 2020.
The decision will not be reviewed until 2024 at the earliest the firm said in a statement. “This will allow Eurostar to regain financial flexibility, stabilise its operations and protect the customer experience.”
It cited debt incurred during the pandemic, uncertainty surrounding international travel due to high inflation, and border control issues due to Brexit and the launch of the EU’s Entry/Exit system (EES) in 2023.
Focus on inter-capital routes
“Against this backdrop of constraints and uncertainty, Eurostar is focusing on the core inter-capital routes before considering any new commercial offerings.”
The news will come as a blow to Britons resident in northern France who prefer to visit the UK via train. Ellen James, 75, who lives in Eure, Normandy, used to visit her family in the UK twice a year but she and her husband have not made the trip since 2019 because of the station closure.
“It was so convenient to drive to Calais-Fréthun, leaving the car in the bigger car park knowing it was free and safe there,” she said. She said she was reluctant to pay for parking in Lille, or to travel via Paris.
“It is true, though, that we were few to board or leave the train at Calais-Fréthun,” she added.
Veronica Harford likes to travel from Saint-Omer (Pas-de-Calais) to see family in the UK up to 10 times a year, often taking the Eurostar due to rising Eurotunnel prices when she cannot travel with friends and split the cost.
“I would use the Eurostar more if it stopped in Calais,” she said.
When she takes the Eurostar, she parks at Calais-Fréthun, where she knows her car is safe, and takes the train to Lille. “Parking in Lille is expensive, I couldn’t leave my car there for a week.
Sometimes I travel on to the US, so am away for a month.”
Hurts local economy
Pas-de-Calais MP Pierre-Henri Dumont said he has raised the issue with Transport Minister Clément Beaune. “This decision [not to serve Calais in 2023] is unacceptable and strongly penalises our area’s economic attractiveness,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
“Eurostar had been planning to close Calais-Fréthun for a long time and has used the pandemic as a pretext to do so.” Eurostar saw its revenues fall by 95% during the Covid crisis and was refused state-backed loans, meaning it must pay higher rates of interest on its £500million of accumulated debt.
In a letter sent to Huw Merriman, chair of the UK’s Transport Select Committee, in September, then-CEO Jacques Damas said Brexit-related checks had reduced the capacity in its London and Paris stations by 30%.
“This situation has obvious commercial consequences and is not sustainable in the mid-to-long term,” he said. The stamping of British passports by French border police adds at least 15 seconds to passenger border-crossing times, he added.
“It is only the fact that Eurostar has capacity-limited trains and significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels that we are not seeing daily queues in the centre of London similar to those experienced in the Channel ports.”
Read more: UK-France Eurostar capacity cut by a third due to post-Brexit checks
Responding to Mr Merriman’s query regarding the Kent closures, he wrote: “Re-opening the intermediate stations (where demand and yields are much lower) would make matters even worse as it would take away from vital London border police resources.
The reality of traffic numbers is such that a police officer controls five to 10 times more passengers in our large terminals than in intermediate stations.”
Services continue to run between London and Paris, Lille, Brussels, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but Eurostar has decided not to run direct trains to Disneyland Paris during summer 2023.
Read more: Eurostar to cancel direct London-Disneyland Paris trains in June 2023
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