Tunnel Vision?

Guest Contributor
Baroness O'Cathain

Baroness O'Cathain

Today the EU Sub-Committee on the Internal Market, Energy and Transport published our report on the Channel Tunnel , entitled ‘Tunnel Vision?’

The report is the culmination of seven months of hard work, huge stimulation and some humorous moments.  The members of the Committee have become railway enthusiasts and, indeed, experts!

The Committee agreed to undertake the study because it pressed all three of the buttons in our remit to a greater or lesser extent (the Committee scrutinises EU proposals relating to the internal market, transport and energy).  Even more importantly, it was our view that the 500 million inhabitants of the member states of the EU often do not feel that the EU is in any way ‘consumer focused’ or ‘consumer friendly’ and we wanted to bring that requirement to the forefront in our work.

The Channel Tunnel has not yet fulfilled the expectations which were prevalent when that great engineering feat was completed.  Passenger traffic is operating at about half the available capacity and freight traffic at 10%.  A significant increase in passenger traffic would reduce the demand for short haul flights, ease airport congestion and reduce CO2 emissions.  Similarly, there is enormous potential for transferring freight from road to rail, which would reduce the impact of CO2 from the carriage of goods to and from the European mainland.

We are pressing for consumer interests to be paramount – passenger rights, ease of ticketing and transparency were at the forefront of our investigations.  There are too many barriers to trade at present, many of which could easily be either reduced or removed.  In addition, allowing other operators to use the tunnel would result in more competition with consequent consumer advantage. We also recommended that the Treaty of Canterbury (the agreement that allowed the Channel Tunnel construction) be reviewed to make sure that the Tunnel is run as efficiently, transparently and directly as possible. We are sure that there could be many gains if our recommendations were accepted and acted upon.

The consumers in the EU need some ‘good news’ stories – we feel that this report is one of them and we hope that the Government will respond in a constructive manner and push this case in future discussions in the EU.

11 comments for “Tunnel Vision?

  1. Twm O'r Nant
    08/12/2011 at 12:26 pm

    Baroness; Welcome.

    consumer interests to be paramount – passenger rights, ease of ticketing and transparency were at the forefront of our investigations.

    My recent experience of passenger rights and ease… has been entirely negative on SW trains, and in the way that one should rarely
    campaign or one’s own cause, I may say that
    one poor Christian woman from Winchester, who was tazered on Waterloo station, and was knocked unconscious for about a minute,also from hitting her head on a barrier as she fell, may always find it difficult to order tickets from the new computerised system presented by SWT for the ease of ticket collection.

    Things like that are beyond the non-technically minded, and SWT would seem to be ruling such people out of taking trains entirely. Would that also apply to channel tunnel procedures?

    Whilst I endeavored to revive her, three plain clothed people approached and told me that she had done wrong, she had a problem, presumably her tazering assailants.

    I had to leave her to them, since I cannot defend myself thru injury, let alone a vulnerable 75 year old as well.

    She got on the same train as i did, having apparently recovered from her ordeal saying that she had been “hit by another passenger” which I hastened to ensure her, she had not.

    She became unconscious during the journey, from delayed concussion and was taken from the train on a Stretcher at Winchester, probably by the account of SWT, in a successful endeavour to avoid payment from their newly commissioned, and computerised system.

    They say that most ticket offices are now being closed in favour of the ticket machine without use of which you will have to pay a penalty fare.

    What hope is there for this species of fair lady, if it is entirely computerised, for ease of ticketing?

    … and for myself who was charged an unpaid fare of £80 for not being prepared to wait on Bournemouth Station for six hours from 0100 until 0700 to get home the NEXT DAY, on a 2 1/2 hour single journey from Waterloo.

    Transparency? MUD! and corporate theft!

    • Lord Blagger
      08/12/2011 at 5:21 pm

      It’s rent seeking. All the complaints about ‘capitalism’ really are all about the government screwing things up, rather than letting the market take its course.

      Consider the water companies. They can take money from you for supplying water, including the use of a hosepipe.

      When they can’t supply that water, do they give you a refund? No.

      What happens if you use the water? Well, they will use the state apparatus to sue you, because they have got the perk of being able to use the law just for themselves.

      The same applies to the rail companies. They have hung onto their nationalised industry perks of being able to use the law in their favour.

      It’s all rent seeking. Corporates getting the government to do their dirty work, and not competing.

      The public gets screwed in the process.

      When you look at the the range of problems in the UK, there is invariably a common factor. It’s the government has its fingers in the mess.

  2. Lord Blagger
    08/12/2011 at 12:29 pm

    How much was lost on the tunnel? Yep – a bad news story that you fail to mention.

    What about St Pancras? Why has Waterloo been shut? Ah yes. We have to force people to use the High speed link, or it won’t make money. We must prevent people from using the cheaper and 10 minutes slower, Waterloo link. Now we have a useless station on top.

    ie. More expensive tickets for a small gain in time for some. Not good for the consumer.

    No competition between the stations – bad news for the consumer

    And that link? How much was lost on that by politicians? Yet another bit of bad news not mentioned. Bad news for the taxpayer.

    Perhaps it’s time for a little rebranding. How about rename St Pancras Agincort. After all Paris has Gare D’Austerlizt. It’s a European tradition.

    • Twm O'r Nant
      08/12/2011 at 8:25 pm

      It was surprising how little impact the Tunnel terminal had on Waterloo, either when it started or when it finished. There is less glamour about it, but the life of the station goes on. I met one of my best friends, a Parisian lady, one Sunday morning in spring there upon, which can scarcely happen now!
      St Pancras!

      Passenger traffic is operating at about half the available capacity and freight traffic at 10%. A significant increase in passenger traffic would reduce the demand for short haul flights, ease airport congestion and reduce CO2 emissions. Similarly, there is enormous potential for transferring freight from road to rail

      It is interesting how Alsa, the National coach service of Spain, which, like Santander bank, has now gone transEuropean, has really only just got its act together in terms of Websites, pricing, discounts and so on.

      Perhaps the Eurostar does not have sufficient back up at its principal stations to be able to identify easy available methods of onward travel?

      Is freight traffic only 10% because it was built with far to excess capacity, or because it goes other ways, by air?

      Illegal immigrant “freight”, goes under the train, and not in it, from my recollection of
      their methods. In India they go on top; in Northern Europe, some go underneath.

  3. 08/12/2011 at 12:34 pm

    The problem with the Channel Tunnel is that it’s never going to be as convenient as taking an ordinary train while there are such lengthy passport checks. I have had a Eurostar journey significantly delayed before now because the border staff decided to spend longer doing their checks.

    Of course the irony is that, despite all the checks and inconvenience for passengers, all would-be illegal immigrants have to do is board at Brussels with a ticket for Lille:
    This will presumably be even more of an issue as the number of destinations across mainland Europe increases.

    (Perhaps the answer is exit barriers at St Pancras – they have them at most main National Rail stations now, including St Pancras, and it would stop anyone with a ticket to Lille not only so their passport can be checked, but also so that they can pay the correct fare to London!)

  4. MilesJSD
    08/12/2011 at 2:54 pm

    One guesses that’s good tunneling for future Anglo-European-cum-Continental Trade;

    but still in our own Isles there are too many tunnels and low-bridges-over, for British railways to ever come-up-to-speed ?

  5. maude elwes
    08/12/2011 at 6:02 pm

    The railways should be re-nationalized! European trains run well are clean and sfe. And inexpensive. Now why is that? Anyone know.

    Freight shoud all be sent by train as much as possible.Get those dreadful juggernauts off the road. Cut donw on road wear and tear as well as drunk drivers who persists in overtaking then slowing down after they nearly killed you.

    As a matter of course, I only ever go to Europe by car on the train through the tunnel. It is the best. Flying is a naseating prospect of abuse. Not for me.

    If you wnat to take your car to the South you can train it for very little Euro from Paris. Easy clean and even the French are helpful. They drive it onto the train and deliver it back to you at the other end.

    The best of all alternatives would be if the train was available for the car at St Pancras. But the British trains are simply robbery with violence. And could you imagine trusting one of the British train attendants to drive your car on for you. Horror or what?

    • maude elwes
      10/12/2011 at 4:41 pm

      This post of mine above looks as if I can’t put a sentence together or spell. How did I let it pass looking like that? And no, I had not had a few in.

      I beg patience of you all, as well as forgiveness. I have no excuse.

  6. Twm O'r Nant
    09/12/2011 at 9:28 pm

    “The railways should be re-nationalized!”

    Railtrack was just taken back in to state control with scarcely a murmur from Shareholders. As a good Gwynneth Dunwoody socialist, I should say i agree with you, but the transfer of so many state enterprises in the late 80s, has not seen its fulfillment yet; there is still initiative in the private sector which it would be unwise to curb.

    Government has got to be about competent management, and administration, of which political creed or ethos, and while we discussed Quango agencies in the health service here recently, it is still not time to take them in, although, with financial crisis, it could change rapidly.

    The “B” roads of England and wales suffer very badly from the juggernauts that afflict them, so I agree with freight by train opinions, especially having such a B road outside my home and thru the village.

    Over 15 years it has completely divided the village in two, just like a brick wall getting from the one part to the other; totally impassible by pedestrians, and impossible for children, dodgy for cyclists,
    slightly iffy for horse riders.

  7. tory boy
    09/12/2011 at 9:28 pm

    When will the House of Lords debate the report?

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