The sight of the international side of Ashford station being empty and unused has been a depressing one for the past few years, since the last train ran before the pandemic struck. So I was particularly interested in the news that a Spanish-led consortium is planning to run a rival service to Eurostar starting in 2025.
They are clearly a serious outfit, in that they have already signed a contract with Alsthom to buy the trains, which itself will cost them a billion pounds. So I suspect that this will actually happen.
DAMIAN GREEN AT ASHFORD INTERNATIONAL STATION*
Less encouraging for the time being is that they are saying they are only planning to run services between the capital cities. But I still think this is potentially good news for Ashford for two reasons.
The first is that any new business will of course be open to persuasion that they have the chance to expand their market. So the work many of us in Kent are doing to collect the economic evidence in favour of the Kent stops can be put before this new company as well as Eurostar.
The second is that competition on the line in general will force Eurostar to consider its future options, as passenger numbers have now risen again. When we have two competing operators on the line they will each be looking at how they can exploit every possible advantage.
There are two stations in Kent where all the big capital spending on the track and signalling has already taken place, so it will be very easy to introduce services that stop here. This could be a significant commercial opportunity for one or both of the operators.
The fact that 35,000 people have signed the petition asking for services to resume from Ashford is very welcome evidence of a potential customer base which Eurostar is currently not serving well. So the coming months will be a time for making the case.