Biometric Passport Checks Threaten Eurostar Services

Biometric Passport Checks Threaten Eurostar Services

The much-delayed post-Brexit EU Entry/Exit System (EES) is due to go into effect in October this year, and Eurostar may be driven to reduce the number of trains because the facilities at London St Pancras have been considered “inadequate” to perform these new checks.

The EES is an automated IT system for registering travellers from third countries who travel to the European Union. 

Starting from February 1, 2020, UK nationals are classified as ‘third-country nationals' according to EU law. Every time short-stay visa holders and visa-exempt travellers go into the EU, they will also have to submit fingerprint and facial biometric data. The system also records refusals of entry.

However, Eurostar, which runs trains between London and several EU destinations, has said the new system has been designed for airports rather than for terminals located in city centres or subject to space constraints, and that its implementation will represent “a unique challenge”.

Long Queues Ahead

High Speed 1 (HS1) owns and operates the line between London and the Channel Tunnel, as well as all of its stations. It has recently raised many concerns with British MPs that the preparation for the extra checks at London St Pancras, where the notoriously short space for international rail travel already leads to long waits, was “severely inadequate”.

HS1 stated that only 24 EES kiosks had been allocated by the French government, despite modelling suggesting that nearly 50 would be needed, meaning Eurostar would be unable to process all passengers, particularly at the morning peak. This means that the lack of kiosks could result in hour-long queues at peak times, possibly leading to a capping of services and passenger numbers.

Any extra kiosks would need to be funded by Eurostar, at about £25,000  per kiosk, while the operation and maintenance costs for all of the kiosks each year would be £2 million.

Eurostar has also stated that the new system would add “two to three minutes” to the current time taken to process travellers going through, which is currently around 45 seconds. 

This is significantly higher and could lead to queues of over an hour. The complication of the flow management would also represent a “higher risk for the delivery of the timetable” which means possible delays.

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