Getlink, the operator of the Channel Tunnel, wants to attract new rail operators. It has set aside a budget of 50 million euros for this purpose. With direct high-speed trains between London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, Eurostar is currently the only operator for passenger transport through the Channel Tunnel. But that monopoly Eurostar has had for more than 30 years now appears to be ending.
Getlink plans to double the number of direct connections to Britain over the next ten years, including a London-Cologne-Frankfurt and London-Geneva link.
Services to Germany and Switzerland are in sight
The Channel Tunnel is currently used by Eurostar high-speed trains, freight trains, and Getlinks Eurotunnel shuttles, carrying cars, trucks, and buses between France and Britain.
In February, Yann Lerich, Getlink’s general manager, announced that new technology has allowed it to increase the 50,46 km long Channel Tunnel capacity from 400 to 1 000 trains a day. To attract new operators, Getlink has now provided a financial support program of 50 million euros starting in 2025.
In that year, at least, Evolyn, a start-up led by British airline Monica and of which the Spanish Cosmen family is the main shareholder, plans to begin operating a high-speed connection between Britain and the European mainland.
The Dutch transport company Heurotrain also wants to run dozens of daily trips between Paris and London starting in 2028 at lower ticket prices than rival Eurostar.
But Getlink does not want to stop there. A conception between London-Cologne-Frankfurt and London-Geneva, or Zürich, is also on the radar. These two journeys currently represent 6,5 million air travelers.
The company hopes to accommodate half of this traffic in the coming years. Other connections, notably London-Marseilles or Bordeaux, are also currently being explored.
According to Getlink, licenses for new connections can now be arranged in five years instead of ten years. This shortening of the ‘time-to-market’ is possible thanks to standardizing European tunnel standards and integrating rolling stock into the manufacturer’s standard offering, two things Getlink is firmly committed to – it has also prepared the cross-channel connections with network and station managers.
In addition, ERTMS, a European train traffic management system that will allow the frequency of trains on the network to be increased, will also come into force in 2030.
The opening of a new rail link between London and any European city is particularly complicated by the need to open a British border at the stations concerned. British police officers must be recruited to carry out checks.
But Getlink is responding to that too: as part of the EU Entry-Exit system in October 2024, the company has invested 78 million euros to register biometric details of new entrants to European territory on entry and on their return to Britain. The new infrastructure will help avoid delays, although it is expected to take six to seven minutes to process a carload of passengers.
Yet the initial investment cost of acquiring rolling stock remains one of the biggest obstacles to the arrival of new operators.
In the first half of 2023, Getlink posted historical financial results with revenue of 934 million euros, up 64% from last year’s period, and a net profit of 159 million euros.