Spain’s national rail operator is looking to expand into the London to Paris cross-Channel route and is in talks with the tunnel’s owner.
The move by Renfe would put it into direct competition with Eurostar, a unit of French state-owned rail operator SNCF that currently holds a monopoly on the tunnel route.
Eurostar has had the monopoly on transporting passengers through the tunnel since 1994, but new players are now looking at the route as France eases competition restrictions on its domestic rail industry.
State-owned Renfe said it has started talks with Getlink, which operates the cross-Channel tunnel, to run high-speed trains through it.
“At the moment, there are available slots and capacity to operate on the high-speed line,” Renfe said in a statement.
“This high-speed corridor has high traffic and was growing until Covid-19 – a trend that is set to recover next year. According to demand analysis, it would be viable and profitable for Renfe to compete with Eurostar.”
About seven million travellers boarded Eurostar trains between Paris and London in 2019, Renfe said. The company said it is confident the demand, which collapsed with the pandemic, will recover in 2022, making the route “viable and profitable” for its service.
In a second phase, Renfe also plans services to “new French and international destinations”.
“Renfe’s aim is to operate its own product, meaning the first step would be the standardisation of trains,” the statement said.
“The business plan is built around the use of at least seven trains, and estimates suggest a return on the investment after four years.”
Spain’s decision to jump in, comes days before the start of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, where environmental groups are pressing demands for governments to boost rail services, eliminate short-haul flights and help lower the cost of train travel.
“The tunnel has always offered open access to rail operators and provides an attractive and low-carbon route for travel and trade to many destinations,” Getlink said, but declined further comment on Renfe’s plans.
“We have been ready to see a new operator arriving on one of our routes for a long time, according to the railway competition regulation,” Eurostar said.