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Rival train operator’s bid to run cross-Channel services could place pressure on Eurostar to return services at Ashford and Ebbsfleet

Investment from a rival rail company in cross-Channel services could put extra pressure on Eurostar to return to Kent, an MP says.

Damian Green (Con), for Ashford, hopes the recent announcement from Evolyn – to buy 12 high-speed trains and run non-stop routes from London to Paris – will eventually lead to trains stopping once again at both Ebbsfleet and Ashford International stations.

Spanish company Evolyn is eyeing up alternatives to the Eurostar service
Spanish company Evolyn is eyeing up alternatives to the Eurostar service

Eurostar – the only company to run passenger trains since the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994 – has not stopped at the two stations since before the pandemic.

Bosses for Eurostar say they currently have no plans to re-start the service from Kent.

Last week it was revealed Spanish firm Evolyn has invested £1 billion to launch a new service from London to the continent. It plans to acquire 12 trains from French manufacturer Alstom, with an “option to scale up to 16”.

The company said the route was “strategic and high demand” and it intended to launch its first service in 2025. The trains would not stop in Kent.

But Mr Green says he is encouraged by the news as it could exert some pressure on Eurostar to reconsider its decision to halt stopping services at the two domestic stations.

Ashford MP Damian Green. Picture: ITV/Twitter
Ashford MP Damian Green. Picture: ITV/Twitter

He said: “It is potentially encouraging for two reasons: one we may be able to persuade them that they may be able to make extra money from stopping at Ashford.

“And second the presence of a rival operator will put pressure on Eurostar to explore every angle to increase revenue.

“This does seem to be a serious company and if they have signed to buy the trains, they clearly intend to go ahead.”

As it stands, MPs, local councils and Kent County Council are putting together a dossier to present to Eurostar outlining a business case they believe could be viable and allow for services to be reintroduced.

Mr Green said: “We accept that there has to be an economic case and that is taking place as we were intending to put that to Eurostarin the next couple of months.”

No international trains have run from Ashford International since services were suspended during lockdown
No international trains have run from Ashford International since services were suspended during lockdown

He added that the high speed line was commercially more than viable: “The stops in Kent are already viable - it does not require a huge amount of investment because that investment has already been put in.”

However, a note of caution comes from engineering company Alstom, with bosses saying a formal contract with Evolyn is yet to be confirmed.

In a statement it said: “Alstom and Evolyn have established a short term agreement to proceed with initial train system engineering activities with the objective of accelerating activities should the parties eventually sign a contract for the purchase and delivery of a certain number of trains provided that Evolyn is capable of securing finance for the project.”

However there was a more optimistic assessment of the project from Getlink, the parent company of Eurotunnel.

A statement reads: “The announcement confirms the growth potential of the cross-Channel rail market as well as the attractiveness and quality of the Channel Tunnel infrastructure.

“The tunnel and the rail networks that connect to it are designed to carry more than 20 million passengers across the Channel each year almost double the current level.”

The positive reaction from Getlink is important as it operates on an open access basis, meaning that any rail operator can use it to travel between the British and European networks.

A petition calling for domestic services to be reinstated has now attracted some 35,000 signatures.

A statement from the firm in August, on its return to Kent, said: “Our Kent stations will remain closed throughout 2023 and 2024. We will provide an update should anything change regarding this.

“We understand this is disappointing for the local communities, and we will continue to work closely and openly with the local councils on the future of the stations.”

Eurostar stopped services in Kent in March 2020. Picture: Nathan Gallagher
Eurostar stopped services in Kent in March 2020. Picture: Nathan Gallagher


As a commercially driven company Eurostar may well be watching with interest the apparent move by a rival for the introduction to get on High-Speed One.

It was always likely to happen but the Covid pandemic put a halt on the expansion of existing services and has brought about significant changes in the travel patterns of rail users, most notably that there are now many people using domestic services on the Monday to Friday commute but now work some of the time at their home.

In the case of Eurostar, it has battened down the hatches as the fragile post Covid recovery goes on and there are tentative signals that indicate a relatively modest increase in those using its services.

In that sensitive environment, it is hardly a surprise that many operators have preferred to sit tight to see which way the wind is blowing.

Passenger numbers are nevertheless beginning to see some stability, which arguably should make it easier for others interested in high speed to develop a business case and a business case that incorporates Ashford and Ebbsfleet.

There is still, however, caution in the sector but as the Ashford MP Damian Green puts it, there is no need to invest in infra-structure as both stations remain exactly as they were prior to Covid-19.

But there has been a list of interested parties before, none of which have go that far down the track.

That may not lead to the immediate re-introduction of stopping services but it has opened the door ajar to its consideration.

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