Spanish rail company to bid for Paris to London route

Spanish railway company Renfe wants to begin a high-speed train service between Paris and London, taking advantage of the slots still available in the tunnel under the English Channel, the company said on Tuesday.

Renfe wants to challenge Eurostar's monopoly on the Channel Tunnel crossing
Renfe wants to challenge Eurostar's monopoly on the Channel Tunnel crossing. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

“Renfe wants to operate on the Paris-London high-speed line through the Eurotunnel, and has already started initial contacts to compete with Eurostar,” the company behind the service 55 percent owned by France’s SNCF, the Spanish company told AFP, confirming a report in Spanish daily El Pais.

“At the moment there are available paths and capacity to operate on the High Speed line,” Renfe added, specifying that it had already carried out a market study showing that it would be “profitable.”

The high-speed line between Paris and London, operated by Eurostar, connects the two capitals in two hours and 15 minutes through the tunnel opened in 1994. Before the pandemic, it was used by nine million passengers annually.

Eurostar train traffic fell sharply from 2020 due to the health crisis, but “it was growing until Covid-19, a trend expected to recover next year,” Renfe stressed.

The Spanish company expects to operate its service with its own trains, starting with a minimum of seven, and believes taking a share of the London-Paris line will help it enter the French market.

“In a second phase, the service could be extended to new French and international destinations,” the company said.

Renfe announced in July 2019 its desire to launch into French routes, freshly opened to competition, with a high-speed train service between Marseille and Lyon.

However, it ended up denouncing “numerous obstacles” to its aspirations.

In contrast, SNCF is already operating in the Spanish market with its low-cost Ouigo line linking Madrid and Barcelona (northeast) inaugurated in May in which it invested €600 million.

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VIDEO: Passengers trapped on train engulfed by flames during huge wildfire in Spain

Fifteen people were injured in eastern Spain on Tuesday after the train on which they travelled had to stop for two hours on the tracks due to a huge wildfire, with authorities and affected passengers still trying to understand why they received no prior warning.

VIDEO: Passengers trapped on train engulfed by flames during huge wildfire in Spain

Forty-nine passengers on board a train travelling between Valencia and Zaragoza on Tuesday August 16th watched in horror as for two hours they were surrounded by flames near the town of Bejís, which is currently experiencing one of Spain’s worst wildfires this year. 

Upon reaching the forest fire in Bejís, 70 kilometres northwest of Valencia, the train’s conductor decided to stop the vehicle, having not been warned beforehand that the tracks ran directly past the wildfire. 

Footage shared online by some of the passengers reflects their concerns as they approached the area and how upon grinding to a halt, many of them panicked as the flames were only metres away. 

One passenger exclaimed “we have to call 112 (Spain’s emergency services)” as she struggled to gasp for air, while another person commented on how the train should go back. 

“There were around 60 people on board and our lives were in danger at all times,” one passenger told Spanish national daily El Mundo.   

“What we don’t understand is why the train left Valencia in the first place as the wildfire had already started the night before,” the 30-year-old woman added.

The passenger in question has told the Spanish press that she approached the engine driver to ask if it would be possible to go past the blaze, who responded that it would be. 

But the passengers soon noticed that the temperature in the carriages began to increase dramatically, that smoke was entering the train and that the fire was “literally next to them”. 

According to the woman’s account, it was at this point that the engine driver stopped the train, tried to activate the lever to go back but that it appeared to be stuck, at which point the driver “lost the plot completely”. 

Fifteen people were injured during the incident, six of them with burns and the rest due to smoke inhalation. Two of the passengers suffered serious burns whilst one is currently in critical condition.

According to Spain’s state-owned rail company Renfe and railway infrastructure manager Adif, neither entity was informed that the wildfire in Bejís, which has so far burned more than 6,000 hectares of land, was close to the tracks.

Adif added that the engine driver stopped the train after coming across “an intense amount of ash and smoke” and that she proceeded to contact management for clarification on what to do next.

According to their statement, several passengers got off the train despite their warnings not to do so, in some cases using the hammers to break the windows. It was at this point that most injuries were reportedly sustained. 

Renfe has opened an internal investigation to clarify the events.