Eurostar boss says Brexit border checks add 15 seconds per passenger

Extra Brexit border checks mean the processing rate for passengers at Eurostar’s London station has been cut by nearly a third, according to the cross-Channel rail operator’s boss.

Outgoing chief executive Jacques Damas claimed long daily queues at London St Pancras International are only being avoided by the company limiting capacity on some trains.

In a letter to Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, Mr Damas wrote that the stamping of British passports by foreign border officials adds “at least 15 seconds” to the processing time for each passenger.

Even with all border booths manned, the station can only process a “maximum” of 1,500 passengers per hour compared with 2,200 in 2019, before the Brexit transition period ended, according to Mr Damas.

The chief executive also stated that Eurostar took on £500 million in commercial debt due to the drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

He told Mr Merriman that these are the “main factors” why the company will not resume operations at either of its Kent stations – Ashford and Ebbsfleet – until at least 2025, and will stop direct trains between London and Disneyland Paris from June 5 next year.

Serving the Kent stations would “make things even worse” at London St Pancras International as it would “take away from London vital border police”.

Mr Damas wrote that the operator must focus on its core routes – connecting London with Paris and Brussels – where it can “charge higher prices to our customers”, rather than “pursue a strategy of volume and growth”.

He also stated that the European Union’s incoming Entry/Exit System (EES) “hangs over us”.

EES is due to be introduced next year, and is expected to involve travellers from non-EU countries such the UK having their fingerprints scanned and a photograph taken to register them onto a database the first time they enter a member state.

Mr Damas wrote: “In such an uncertain context, I have the duty, as CEO, to make the right decision and secure my company’s future. I am therefore cautious not to overcommit.”

Gwendoline Cazenave, who has been a partner at management consultancy Oliver Wyman for the past two years, will succeed Jacques Damas on October 1.