New operator Evolyn hopes to challenge Eurostar’s reign in the Channel Tunnel
Two weeks ago, the last red train adorned with the Thalys name left Paris for Brussels. Henceforth, high-speed rail connections between London and Paris, but also Belgium and the Netherlands, will be run exclusively under the name Eurostar after the merger of the two companies. Yet, just as the British operator is further consolidating its high-speed monopoly, there is news of a potential new competitor entering the Channel Tunnel: Evolyn. Where do things stand?
On 11 October 2023, Evolyn stated in a press release that it had “reached an agreement to acquire 12 high-speed trains from French rolling stock manufacturer Alstom to start operating on the Channel Tunnel.” The trains would be from the AVELIA range. “After three years in development, the acquisition agreement for the 12 trains, with an option to scale up to 16, represents the materialisation of the project, which aims to start running in 2025,” continues the statement. This timeframe could be seen as quite ambitious for a newcomer, particularly because it entails the certification of trainsets for operation on the route, including passage through the Channel Tunnel.
An Evolyn spokesperson told Reuters that “It would be the first time, after 30 years of Eurostar’s monopoly, that a competitor has entered the market.” Indeed, the blue trains have enjoyed a monopoly on the London-Paris line since 1994, despite the fact that “The Tunnel operates on an open access basis, meaning that any rail operator can use it to travel between the British and European networks, guaranteeing them an equal right of access,” according to GetLink, the organisation responsible for managing the Channel Tunnel’s infrastructure.
Getlink, conveyed in a statement issued on 11 October 2023 that “The announcement by Evolyn confirms the growth potential of the cross-Channel passenger rail market, (…) The Tunnel and the rail networks that connect to it are designed to carry more than 20 million high-speed passengers across the Channel each year, almost double the current level.”
Two days after the Evolyn announcement, French manufacturer Alstom released a statement clarifying no contract has been signed at this stage. Rather, they “have established a short-term agreement to proceed with initial train system engineering activities with the objective of accelerating activities, should the parties eventually enter into a contract for the purchase and delivery of a certain number of trains, provided that Evolyn is capable of securing project financing.” When it comes to determining the future delivery dates for new trains, the definitive schedule will be established once a firm and conclusive contract is agreed upon and signed at a later date, according to Alstom.
Indeed, the project involves an estimated total investment of 1 billion pounds (or about 1.15 billion euros). While it is led by the Spanish Cosmen family, “The owners or shareholders of this consortium are French and British partners (…) and international funds interested in the project,” a spokesperson for Evolyn told Reuters on Wednesday.
It has not however been specified who exactly the investors are, and what their level of participation is, as this information is pending finalisation. Also, despite the fact that Evolyn is headed by Jorge Cosmen, of the Spanish industrialist family with significant investments in the UK-based coach and train company Mobico (previously known as National Express), Mobico clarified in an email to Reuters on Wednesday that it is not affiliated with the consortium, despite previous media reports. There is therefore an element of intrigue that continues to cling to this new venture.