Queues for Eurostar train services at London’s St Pancras International could reach up to 15,000 passengers each day in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to a confidential report drawn up by the British government. The Department for Transport analysis, , says a daily queue of that length could develop if Britain crashes out of the EU and France subjects UK and non-EU passengers at St Pancras to rigorous passport checks.
According to one government insider familiar with the DfT report and its worst-case scenario, a queue of 15,000 people would stretch for almost one mile along the Euston Road, from St Pancras to Warren Street underground station. “Something like that could never be allowed to happen,” said this person. “Eurostar and the UK authorities would have to cancel trains and pre-notify passengers to prevent them turning up. A 40-60 per cent reduction in Eurostar services would be the only conceivable response.” The DfT’s 11-page analysis has been shared in recent days with Eurostar and Network Rail, the state body responsible for the UK’s track. Eurostar has privately indicated to the government that it would be unable to survive for more than six to 12 weeks commercially in a worst-case scenario, said the government insider.
The DfT’s analysis forms part of the government’s contingency planning — dubbed Operation Yellowhammer — for a possible no-deal Brexit in just 36 days time. The report is based on detailed modelling of what this scenario would mean for passengers at St Pancras, a critical transport hub facilitating 3.5m trips a year between London and the continent.
At present, French police impose minimal checks on UK and non-EU passengers at St Pancras, because extensive use is made of electronic passport gates. As a result, queues at the station tend to be no more than 200 long on an average day, allowing all passengers to reach their trains on time. Eurostar and the UK authorities would have to cancel trains and notify passengers to prevent them turning up. A 40-60 per cent reduction in Eurostar services would be the only conceivable response UK government insider However, the DfT report notes that departure facilities at St Pancras are “constrained” and queues are “extremely sensitive” to changes in the French border control arrangements. If Brussels insisted that UK and non-EU passengers at St Pancras were no longer allowed to use passport e-gates, and the French police refused to increase personnel at their checkpoints, the queues would lengthen significantly.
The DfT report says that, in those circumstances, manned border checks lasting 21 seconds per person would create an average daily queue of 2,000 passengers, “breaching existing resilience arrangements” at the station. If French checks were to last 75 seconds per person, the DfT report says the queues at St Pancras could reach up to 15,000 passengers each day. “In the worst-case scenario, with maximum [French police] checks on non-EU passengers (including UK citizens) and with no change to the staffing of [French police] booths or other mitigations in place, queues could reach up to 15,000 passengers on a busy day,” adds the report.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the difficulties facing Eurostar would likely be exacerbated by developments affecting roll-on, roll-off lorries at the Eurotunnel port at Dover. At present, lorries using the Eurotunnel services at Dover undergo checks lasting between one and two minutes on average. However Whitehall officials engaged in contingency planning said this could increase to about 10 minutes per lorry in a no-deal Brexit. “This will have huge knock-on consequences for the ability to shift freight through the tunnel and will add to the complications for Eurostar services,” said one official. “It would create gridlock in Kent but also in the Calais region Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles.
A DfT spokesperson said: “The government continues to work towards a [Brexit] deal and we are confident that we will have agreements in place to ensure cross-channel rail services continue after Brexit. “We are working closely with industry to develop sensible contingency plans which ensure that the Eurostar and domestic rail services continue running.” UK officials insisted that worst-case scenario planning assumptions were not a prediction of what was going to happen, but reflected the government preparing for all scenarios.
Eurostar declined to comment on the risk that a no-deal Brexit could result in it becoming insolvent. However, it said the scenario of a queue involving 15,000 passengers was “extremely misleading and speculative”. “Eurostar has been working extensively with our station partners, governments and control authorities on both sides of the [English] channel to ensure that robust plans are in place to protect services and to manage customer flows effectively.” The French embassy in London declined to comment.