It was a privilege to be able to bring the subject of the return of international rail services to the floor of the House of Commons, and to hear the largely positive response from the Rail Minister Huw Merriman.
I made all the points you would expect, about both the economic benefits to the whole of East Kent of international services stopping at Ashford, and also the environmental benefits of encouraging people to use rail rather than air for travel to the Continent. Every full Eurostar train is the equivalent of thirteen air journeys in terms of its carbon footprint.
There is also the fact that all of us as taxpayers have paid for the upgrade to the signalling system at Ashford which allows Eurostar’s new trains to stop here. At the moment that £8.5 million investment is not yielding any return, and indeed never has because it was completed just as the pandemic struck and international travel was halted.
The Minister’s response to my request for support was “I have a real passion for this subject and I am particularly keen to see those international stations become international stations again.” In practical terms he promised to address the issues with the new EU system of passport control, which will come in after next year’s Paris Olympics, so that the Kent stations are not put at a disadvantage.
He also agreed with me that the prospect for competition on the line which is now arising would be a good moment to start a discussion with all potential operators about re-opening the international station. As he said at the end of his speech “My officials and I will work tirelessly on this matter, and will continue to press for this change in my dealings with our industry partners.”
Rest assured I will be working very hard to keep him to that.