Soon, a low-cost train could connect London and Paris, giving budget-conscious travelers an affordable alternative to the high-speed Eurostar train. Getlink, which runs the Channel Tunnel, has proposed a new route that would connect Stratford, in east London, and Roissy station, next to the Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris.
Getlink Chairman Jacques Gounon said the new route was a response to low-cost flights. “Rail transport is about to be transformed in the same way as air travel was between 2003 and 2005, with the appearance of budget airlines in Europe. The rail market is ready for budget and premium services to coexist.”
Just as low-cost flights use secondary airports, the new London-Paris rail service would employ “peripheral stations and older tracks which are not as fast but have lower toll charges,” Gounon said. The trip would take three hours compared to the two hours and twenty minutes on Eurostar.
The cost of running of the low-cost route would be 25 to 30 percent lower than operating Eurostar, according to a study by the Roland Berger consultancy, which was commissioned by Getlink. The difference would be applied to the lower fares, Gounon said.
“Stratford Station has benefited from good public transport links since the 2012 Olympic Games and offers very fast access to central London,” Gounon said. “The planned opening of an express rail service linking Charles de Gaulle airport with the Gare de l’Est station in central Paris, and the presence of customs officers within the airport make Roissy an ideal destination for a budget service.”
The proposed route would increase the use of the cross-channel tunnel, which now operates at only 58 percent of its capacity. According to Gounon, research has shown that “within the next 10 years, five million new passengers could use the new service, and that’s without taking into account natural market growth.”
There is still no commitment from a railway company to offer the low-cost London-Paris service, however, Getlink said they would provide funding. “We will grant start-up aid for the operator or operators who go into the budget service, in the same way, that small airports are linked with Ryanair.”
There is no timeline yet for the service. “Getting rail projects up and running is a lengthy process. If a new company wants to launch a budget service between London and Paris, it would take at least 18 months for it to begin operating,” Gounon said.
The new service would need to use trains that can run on both British and French tracks. Eurostar could provide a new low-cost service within six months, Gounon said. Adding that Getlink may request bids. Other potential operators could include Virgin, SNCF, the Franco-Belgian company Thalys or Italy’s Italo.
When asked about how Brexit may impact the plans, Gounon said: “Even if there’s a hard Brexit, flows between Europe and the United Kingdom will continue. With a budget service, they could even increase.” There are also considerations for new services between London and Bordeaux, Frankfurt and Geneva.