Eurostar could face fresh rivalry on its cross-Channel train route. Just last month, new rail operator Evolyn announced plans to purchase a fleet of trains to serve the London to Paris line.

Now Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, could also challenge Eurostar’s monopoly, UK newspaper The Telegraph reports. The project would see the British business magnate return to the UK rail sector. Virgin Trains stopped operating in 2019 after more than 22 years. The company’s former boss Phil Whittingham – until last year, MD of Avanti West Coast trains – is reportedly set to lead the new enterprise. Although the project is still in its early stages, it aims to serve routes from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, according to The Telegraph. However, a spokesperson from the Virgin Group told Euronews Travel that “Virgin doesn’t comment on rumour or speculation.”

Why is Eurostar’s monopoly on trains suddenly being challenged?

The recent surge in challengers to Eurostar’s monopoly comes after the EU liberalised its rail network. Countries are now required to open up their high-speed rail networks to foreign bidders, which has led to new companies entering the market and new train routes emerging.

Evolyn, a Spanish-owned firm with mysterious investors, aims to launch in 2025. It would be the first time that Eurostar has faced cross-Channel competition in its 30-year history. Last month, the company announced its intentions to buy 12 trains from French multinational manufacturer Alstom.

How could new cross-Channel operators change train travel in the UK?

Eurostar recently announced that it would no longer serve Ashford or Ebbsfleet stations in Kent, southeast England. Its trains have not run through the stations since March 2020, when COVID-19 travel restrictions were introduced. Its London to Amsterdam service is also under threat due to renovation work being carried out at Amsterdam Centraal station. The route could be suspended for almost a year in 2024.

It is hoped the new operators could reinstate international train services in Kent and help reduce train fares on cross-Channel routes.

Getlink, the French operator of the Channel Tunnel, says that the infrastructure is designed for almost double the current rail traffic level. The tunnel operates on an ‘open access’ basis, guaranteeing an equal right of access to any rail operator travelling between British and European networks.

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