HS1: Going international

Source: RTM June/July 2018

Wendy Spinks OBE, commercial director of HS1 Ltd, discusses the potential of new, direct international train services from the UK.

Passengers value international  train  travel and want new direct destinations. That should come as no surprise when Eurostar, the current international train operator on HS1, is reporting record passenger volumes.

With the convenience of city centre to city centre connections, competitive pricing, environmental benefits, and the relaxed nature of both the onboard environment and railway station departure, the high-speed train can readily compete with the plane. At HS1 Ltd, we believe that the key to unlocking new direct destinations is improving cooperation between the infrastructure managers that operate Europe’s high-speed railways.

The rule of thumb for high-speed rail  is that travellers only begin to switch to aircraft once journeys stretch beyond 1,000km, which puts much of continental Europe in potential railway range of London. This is even more so the case for the leisure traveller, where the quality of the journey matters as much as the speed. Interestingly, research suggests that it is not necessarily a zero-sum relationship, with new train services helping to spur passenger demand for both trains and planes.

Direct railway routes are ultimately as important for marketing as they are for passenger convenience. This is something Eurostar is demonstrating with the excitement surrounding the launch of its new direct route to Amsterdam. As the owners and operators of HS1, the high-speed railway that links London with the Channel Tunnel, we are keen to see new international services operating on the railway. That is something that is good for HS1, good for the UK economy, and good for passengers that want new travel opportunities.

HS1 recently passed the milestone of 10 years of successful operations, and we looked back at the experience of getting new direct international routes off the ground over the past decade. We found that, from the perspective of a train operating company, getting a new international route set up is potentially too challenging, and there was more as an infrastructure manager that we could and should be doing to help.

For example, despite the designed-in compatibility within European high-speed railway networks, the train operating company still needs to navigate multiple regulators, infrastructure managers, operating standards and jurisdictions, and that is before considering the complexities surrounding international borders and security.

As a result, at HS1, we are helping to pioneer a new approach. Starting with a direct route to Bordeaux, we are working with the other infrastructure  managers on  the route – Eurotunnel, SNCF Réseau and Lisea – to get the groundwork of the route in place.

That  means identifying potential departure slots from stations, how journeys will connect across the route, potential station adaptions, and relationships with authorities and regulators. It moves the direct route to something much closer to a turnkey relationship where a potential train operating company can come in with much of the initial work at an advanced stage of development.

There are, of course, still challenges to be overcome – not least agreement between the respective national governments on border and security arrangements – but it is an approach that we believe will mean cutting the time to market of a new route to within a couple of years from today.

Bordeaux is a good destination to start with due to the new high-speed rail connection from Paris and an established passenger market of 1.2 million people. It is a destination well suited to leisure journeys in particular, and one that we believe can help to grow.

Our ambition is that Bordeaux is the first  of many and, as a result, we are already beginning work on cooperation agreements to other destinations such as Frankfurt and Geneva. With the right cooperation between international infrastructure managers, we can help to unlock real passenger growth on Europe’s international railways.


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