The operator of high-speed trains through the Channel Tunnel Eurostar Group Ltd. may struggle to move all of its passengers by Christmas.
The first train in four days left Paris for London at 8:07 a.m. French time following modifications aimed at preventing melting snow from short-circuiting electrical systems, spokeswoman Lesley Retallack said today in a phone interview.
With a backlog of more than 40,000 stranded people and only two-thirds of trains, or 26,000 seats, likely to run today, Eurostar faces a struggle to catch up. Only those with tickets from last weekend will be transported, the company said. People can travel tomorrow with reservations for yesterday and today and on Christmas Eve if booked for Dec. 23 and 24.
“We want to recover as quickly as we can but we need to see how today goes and how tomorrow goes,” said Retallack, who declined to comment on whether Eurostar expects to move everybody before the holiday or if the full timetable will be restored by the end of the year.
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Meanwhile, for many Eurostar, rather than airlines, is the preferred way to travel between London and Paris as the journey now takes just two hours and 15 minutes. It's a phenomenon hitting airlines across Europe as proliferating high-speed links reduce rail journeys between major cities to less than three hours.
True, potential rivals are likely to face substantial obstacles. Applications to run a rival service need the time-consuming approval of the tracks owners in the U.K., France, Belgium and Eurotunnel. Making room for a new service at busy stations and on busy track in southeast England and northwest France could prove difficult.
Any competitor to France's state-owned railroad company Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer, a major shareholder in Eurostar, would face political opposition, not least from its unionized workforce which has long opposed liberalization. It took two years for utility group Veolia to start a rival freight service to SNCF after that market was opened in 2003.
Still, these obstacles are unlikely to deter competitors from having a go. Deutsche Bahn is interested. Last year Air France said it was toying with the idea of entering the train business with Veolia, partly to connect U.K. passengers to flights from Paris by train. That project has gone cold, partly because of the recession, The Wall Street Journal reports.
It was also reported, Eurostar spokesman said its backlog was "considerably" less than 40,000 because some had flown home. Others returned by coach or ferry.
He admitted the company had taken some "reputational damage" over the last couple of days, but he blamed "a unique combination of climatic conditions in northern France" and ice.
When the trains entered the warm tunnel, a huge amount of condensation built up, causing a short-circuit, he said.
France 's government doubted the cold was the sole reason and has ordered an investigation, Reuters reports.
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