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Spanish national rail operator RENFE is developing plans for a Paris – London train service which would compete with Eurostar and provide it with an alternative route into the French passenger market.
RENFE believes that the launch of a Paris – London service would be supported by Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel and UK high speed line infrastructure manager HS1 Ltd, and would help to provide it with a route into the French domestic market.
RENFE told Railway Gazette International that its demand analysis suggests it would be viable and profitable to compete with Eurostar.
RENFE has been seeking to operate Paris – Lyon – Marseille high speed trains, but is reported to have run into difficulties obtaining information from the French regulator and national incumbent SNCF, meaning that it has not been able to obtain the required approvals.
Meanwhile, SNCF Voyages has been operating Ouigo-branded Madrid – Barcelona services in competition with RENFE since May this year.
RENFE told Railway Gazette International on October 26 that there are train paths available and the capacity to operate cross-Channel services. Its demand analysis suggested that it would be viable and profitable to compete with Eurostar.
The operator said there had been 9 million trips between Paris and London in 2019, with 7 million by Eurostar. Traffic was growing before the pandemic, and RENFE expects ridership to recover next year. Its proposed service is expected to be profitable from the fourth year, and a second phase would see services extended to further destinations in France and beyond.
SNCF’s low-cost high speed rail subsidiary Ouigo entered the Spanish domestic market in May, competing with RENFE on the Madrid – Barcelona route (Photo: Mariano Alvaro Navarro).
The current proposal would involve a fleet of at least seven trainsets, which would need to be approved for use through the Channel Tunnel. RENFE confirmed that initial contacts had already been made with the relevant infrastructure managers.
RENFE had previously approached HS1 Ltd about a cross-Channel service, but at the time it did not have any rolling stock which would be likely to obtain approval for use through the Channel Tunnel.
International expansionRENFE envisages that its cross-Channel service would provide a significant boost to its reputation in the international rail market, supporting a programme of strategic expansion which was announced in 2019 ahead of the opening of Spain’s domestic passenger market to competition.
RENFE has gained access to the passenger markets of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia with the purchase of a 50% stake in open access operator Leo Express.
RENFE already operates the Haramain High Speed Rail line in Saudi Arabia, and acquired a 50% stake in Czech open access operator Leo Express in August this year, gaining access to the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia and licences for Germany.
RENFE is acting as shadow operator of the planned Texas Central high speed line.
RENFE was part of a consortium with MTR Corp which submitted an unsuccessful bid for the UK’s West Coast Partnership operating contract.
Further afield, it is acting as shadow operator for the Texas Central private-sector high speed rail project in the USA, is supporting the development of the Tren Maya project in Mexico, and is part of a consortium bidding to act as shadow operator for Rail Baltica.
This article first appeared on www.railwaygazette.com
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