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A group of companies including the UK coach and train service company Mobico has held detailed talks over launching a cross-Channel train service to rival Eurostar.
Other parties involved in the discussions include the Spanish Cosmen industrialist family, which is an investor in Mobico, formerly known as National Express, according to two people with knowledge of the plans.
The new rail service, to be named Evolyn, would start running between London and Paris through the Channel Tunnel as early as 2025, they said, although final details have yet to be finalised and could change. The proposed consortium had also held discussions with other investors over funding, the people added.
The initiative would represent the first challenge to Eurostar’s current monopoly of passenger rail traffic linking London to major cities in Europe including Brussels and Amsterdam as well as Paris.
There has long been talk of other companies taking on Eurostar, but no competitors have yet been able to overcome the logistical and financial challenges of operating services.
The group had held discussions to order trains from France-based manufacturer Alstom, and for permission to run services with the operators of both the Channel Tunnel and high-speed rail infrastructure in the UK, one of the people said.
Mobico, the Cosmen family and Alstom declined to comment. Eurostar has been contacted for comment.
The plan comes as Eurostar has struggled to increase capacity at its stations because of post-Brexit border checks.
The company has outlined plans to double passenger numbers from 15mn in 2022 to 30mn by 2030, but has pared back its route map to focus on its most profitable routes linking London with Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels.
Eurostar has stopped running trains to Disneyland Paris, as well as its former seasonal direct service to southern France. Within the UK, Eurostar has also abandoned stations at Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent.
A new entrant would face formidable hurdles, both in finding capacity at London’s St Pancras and Paris’s Gare du Nord stations, and obtaining trains that pass the Channel Tunnel’s rigorous safety requirements.
One industry executive said the group was just one of several holding “live” discussions about entering the market. Spanish rail operator Renfe indicated its interest in a service between London and Paris in 2021 but has yet to lay out any concrete plans.
Deutsche Bahn, the German national rail operator, abandoned high-profile plans to enter the market amid frustration about the difficulty of obtaining the required technical clearances.
Border delays would have to be fixed through new technology before it would be feasible to add an extra operator, the industry executive added.
The Cosmen family, which sold its Madrid bus company to National Express in 2005, is the biggest shareholder in Mobico.
The UK group operates in 11 countries, including bus and coach services in Spain, as well as rail services in Germany. It is best known for its National Express bus and coach services in the UK, but derives the majority of its revenue internationally.