Eurostar is hoping to expand its services in continental Europe to Amsterdam, Cologne and other destinations following Wednesday’s launch of high-speed services from London’s refurbished St Pancras International station.
The cross-Channel train operator hopes that even without the extension of its network, passenger numbers will continue to grow at the rate of 30 per cent achieved during the past four years, since the opening of the first 72km section of the high-speed line between London and the Channel Tunnel.
Wednesday’s opening completed the route by opening the last 37km into St Pancras from Ebbsfleet in Kent.
Richard Brown, Eurostar’s chief executive, singled out the new Dutch and Belgian high-speed line from Antwerp to Amsterdam as a route where there might be demand for through Eurostar trains. London to Cologne is another strong contender because Eurostar has a growing share of the market on that route, with passengers changing trains in Brussels.
Eurostar serves only three destinations regularly from London: Paris Nord, Brussels Midi and the Disneyland Paris resort. It also occasionally runs to other destinations, including Avignon in southern France in summer and French ski resorts in winter.
Expansion of Europe’s high-speed rail network is bringing a widening range of destinations within the four-hour journey time in which high-speed rail can compete with air travel.
This year has already seen the opening of France’s LGV Est from Paris to near Strasbourg. A new stretch of high-speed line between Liege and Aachen on the German border and the Antwerp-Amsterdam high-speed line were also due to open but have been delayed.
Eurostar faces the additional challenge of meeting strict UK government security rules for any service using the Channel Tunnel. It could also prove difficult to adapt the trains for the different electrification and signalling systems in the Netherlands and Germany.
Mr Brown said Eurostar would be setting up a small team next year to examine the issue.
“You have to look at all the border control issues, you have to prove the market, and understand how the operation would work,” he said. “It’s obviously quite a major thing, but we would be foolish not to look at it.”
In the shorter term, Eurostar is working with other European high-speed train operators to provide integrated through ticketing, although the necessary software is not yet ready.
“We’re in discussions, particularly with the Dutch NS and German DB, to put in place those through fares,” Mr Brown said, referring to the two countries’ national railways.
The operator has already agreed integrated through fares from a range of UK destinations via St Pancras to Paris and Brussels. Many start at £70 to £90 ($144-$185, €98-€126) – a range Mr Brown said would compete with low-cost airlines.