By Michael Savage
FARES AND journey times for passengers travelling to Europe could fall in just two years after an announcement by Air France that it is to compete with Eurostar by running a high-speed rail service to Paris.
The trip from London could take less than two hours under the company’s plan to bring a new generation of high-speed trains to St Pancras station. They will be capable of a maximum speed of 224mph, 38mph faster than the current top speed of trains running to France.
Eurostar’s monopoly will come to an end at the start of 2010, when new “open access” laws come into force.
The economic downturn has hit airlines hard, while the popularity of high-speed rail travel has been booming. Eurostar saw passenger numbers rise by 18 per cent in the first half of this year.
Eurostar came out fighting last night, saying that it welcomed competition and interest from airlines “had been expected”. It added that airlines had “a lot to learn” before they could compete.
“This shows that airlines now realise that high-speed rail is increasingly the natural choice for business and leisure journeys across Europe,” a spokesman said.
“It’s no surprise that airlines hit by high oil prices and congested airports are trying to turn themselves into train operators. We will continue to compete with them whether they use wings or wheels.”
It was also dismissive of Air France’s claims that it could reach Paris in under two hours, saying that the current top speed of 186mph had been introduced because of the limitations of the track, rather than its train’s capabilities.
But a source involved in the development of St Pancras’ track disagreed. “It is no longer the track that is holding back train speeds, but the trains,” said the source. “With a few modifications and testing, I see no reason why the new generation of TGV trains cannot run on the track.”
Air France-KLM, which is also planning a service between Paris and Amsterdam, said it hoped to launch its London to Paris service by October 2010.
An industry insider said: “Just imagine arriving at the station and being able to pick from destinations from all over Europe such as Prague, Cologne and Frankfurt. Competition will be great news for consumers.”
Virgin Atlantic is also thought to be interested in setting up a European high-speed rail service under the liberalisation plan, while the German operator Deutsche Bahn has expressed interest in running a service from London to Cologne. From there, passengers would have easy access to cities including Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg.
(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.