Eurostar trains must run with empty seats due to Brexit passport rules

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Eurostar trains at rush hour are forced to cross the English Channel with hundreds of empty seats every day because border guards cannot process passports fast enough.

Around 350 of the 900 seats usually remain unsold on first-time flights between London, Paris and Brussels, despite “huge demand” for the greenest form of international travel, Eurostar bosses have said.

Since Brexit, British passports must be stamped separately, even for travelers who can pass through electronic gates. Passengers are now being told to arrive up to 90 minutes before some departures, but bottlenecks at stations still mean not everyone can be served on time, chief executive Gwendoline Cazenave said.

Related: Official figures show that the reliability of trains in the UK fell to new lows in December

She said the Covid pandemic, when international travel has been largely ruled out, “has drastically reduced the number of border police staff in Paris Nord and St Pancras” and with Brexit rules in place “you have to stamp British passports”.

Cazenave, who has been leading the group since October 2022, added: “Even I – I have a work permit, they know who I am – are asking, ‘What are you going to do in the UK? “. It takes almost 30% more time [than before]”.

She said tackling capacity issues at stations was her top priority as Eurostar is only able to offer around 70% of pre-Covid and Brexit seats across the English Channel.

Only 250 seats can be filled after leaving Amsterdam due to lack of space at the border control station, but London to the Dutch capital is one of Europe’s busiest air routes, Cazenave said.

She said the demand for travel in the UK was huge, with leisure “fully back” and around 80-85% of business travelers compared to 2019.

“It’s a shame we can’t offer enough seats because of these bottlenecks at the stations,” she added.

It has ruled out restoring the popular Eurostar ski train or reopening Ebbsfleet and Ashford stops in Kent until the situation at major hubs is resolved.

Commercial director François Le Doze said that while early morning trains were generally the hardest hit, to avoid escalating delays, train seats were limited during the day. He said: “We have become experts in reducing trains – fine-tuning the number of available seats.”

He acknowledged that fares are much more expensive for passengers who want a greener trip: “It’s like organic food. “As long as there is a capacity problem, there are difficulties,” he added.

Queues and capacity constraints are likely to become even more severe after the introduction of the EU entry and exit system for foreign travellers, including UK nationals. It has now been postponed until at least the end of 2023. Cazenave said the postponement is welcome but remains a “serious concern”.

Cazenave was speaking in Brussels as Eurostar unveiled its new logo after last year’s merger with French-Belgian high-speed rail operator Thalys and reaffirmed its ambition to increase passenger numbers to 30 million by 2030, up from a total of 19 million for both companies in 2019. .

They will be brought together under one website and booking system from October 2023, making it easier to book direct and connecting journeys between London and the continent. UK passengers will be able to buy Eurostar tickets to German destinations, including Cologne and Dortmund, with a connection via Brussels.

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