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.