Eurotunnel is set to gain international routes to Cologne, Frankfurt and Geneva, if group boss Yann Leriche has his way.
The new destinations should be connected to London by 2030, said Yann Leriche, CEO of Getlink group and its subsidiary Eurotunnel, at an event marking the build up to the Channel tunnel’s 30th anniversary year in 2024.
Flurry of interest
Eurostar have effectively operated a monopoly on international routes from London since the tunnel’s opening in 1994, but in theory other operators can access the infrastructure and there have been a number of possible takers over the years, from German company DB who expressed interest back in 2005 and gained permission to access the route in 2013, to Spanish state railway Renfe in 2021.
Last year (2023) saw a flurry of offers including from Spanish start-up Evolyn which said it wanted to run high speed Avelia trains by Alstom on the route, as well as rumoured interest from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, and Dutch entrant Heuro.
Increasing the bottom line
Eurotunnel charges for the right to use the tunnel. These are paid by both freight and passenger trains operated by Eurostar, with Eurotunnel collecting €20 (£17) for every traveller. So, as well as increasing passengers’ options, destinations and, as Leriche put it, “low-carbon mobility between the UK and Continental Europe”, an increase in operators and capacity would therefore add significantly to Eurotunnel’s bottom line.
To boost its network, the company has set aside €50m (£42m) in financial support for new operators entering the market between 2025 and 2030. Its sights are set on cities around four hours by rail from London, where demand is already proven by existing aviation routes.
The top three target destinations are:
- Cologne: 4h00
- Frankfurt: 5h00
- Geneva: 5h30
In good news for skiers, London could also gain further Swiss rail links to Zurich and Basel.
Maintenance and stabling capacity
While 12 trains per hour use the tunnel, Leriche said this could increase to 16 or more. However, some are questioning whether there is capacity on the potential routes and at stations for the necessary rolling stock maintenance and overnighting.
St Pancras is a 150-year-old Grade 1 listed building, which means expansion and changes there require sensitive design and time-consuming permissions, but the station, like others around Europe, “will require significant long-term works to ensure it is ready for continued passenger growth,” a spokesperson for the UK’s high speed rail HS1 project commented.