Eurostar trains between London and Paris are running with hundreds of unfilled seats, due to staff shortages and Brexit.
According to chief executive Gwendoline Cazenave, “bottlenecks in stations” are happening since the introduction of post-Brexit checks. To avoid massive queues and delays, the company is obliged to cap passenger numbers by selling fewer tickets than it could.
Eurostar’s CEO brought up the checks in question when defending Eurostar in front of a British parliamentary committee in October 2022. The new border control measures require all passengers, even those using eGates, to get their passports stamped. Combine that with shortages of border staff and the impact of COVID-19 and the result is a huge 30% increase in passenger processing times at London’s St Pancras station.
Passengers are being told to arrive 90 minutes ahead of their departure time to get through passport control, causing many to question the supposed advantages of international train travel comparable with flying. Before the pandemic, the recommended pre-departure cushion was just 30 minutes.
Matters get worse if the first departure of the day is delayed, causing a knock-on effect of “very bad customer experience,” Cazenave said.
Rather than risk delays through the day spiralling out of control, the company is deliberately underselling trains. Euronews reports that of the 900 potential seats available on the first train of the daily timetable, only 550 are actually being sold, leaving the company out of pocket and 350 would-be-passengers looking for alternate transport.
Eurostar trains are forced to run with empty seats due to Brexit passport rules.— Dave Hibbert, BA(Hons), ACTUS, Cert.Ed. Rejoin EU. (@Cpass12David) January 24, 2023
About 350 out of 900 seats are normally left unsold on services between London and Paris.
Eurostar trains run partly empty because police can’t process passports quickly enough.
Good old Brexit!
Services out of Amsterdam Centraal are also subject to capacity issues, with staff only able to get about 200 people on trains to London because of the lack of space at the station.
Eurostar recently merged with another high-speed train operator – French-Belgian Thalys – and is aiming to increase passenger numbers to 30 million per year by 2030. Just how this is going to be achieved when the company is having to turn customers away at the moment remains to be seen.
For customers excited by the coupling and keen to see the post-pandemic return of ski routes, Cazenave had disappointing news, indicating that the priority for the train operator was not new destinations, but to ensure existing flagship services return to normal.
“As long as we are not able to operate as well as possible from a customer experience standpoint in London and Paris, why should we go to Bourg-Saint-Maurice 10 times a year?” she said.