The European Commission (EC) has granted approval for French rail operator SNCF Mobilites to take full control of cross-channel train company, Eurostar International.
SNCF has agreed to share ticket offices and maintenance services with new competitors.
EC’s decision is conditional on compliance with commitments designed to facilitate the entry of new rail operators onto the London-Brussels and London-Paris routes.
According to EC, the original deal would have blocked the entry of competitors to rail stations in France and Belgium and to maintenance depots in France, Belgium and the UK.
Eurostar provides rail services through the Channel Tunnel between the UK, France and Belgium, and it is owned by SNCF (55%), the UK Treasury (40%) and Belgian national railway SNCB (5% minority stake).
In March, the UK Government said it was selling its stake to a private company and SNCF negotiated a package to gain exclusive control over Eurostar.
According to EC, access to train paths at peak times would be problematic due to Eurostar’s priority access as the incumbent operator.
To resolve these concerns, Eurostar, SNCF Mobilités and SNCB have committed to ensure that any new entrant would have ‘fair and non-discriminatory’ access to standard and cross-channel areas and services, including ticket offices, passenger information services and cross-Channel areas of stations in France and Belgium currently managed by SNCF and SNCB.
It also provides access to maintenance centres in France, the UK and Belgium currently managed by SNCF, Eurostar and SNCB for services such as overnight storage, servicing and cleaning of trains and light maintenance.
EC said access will also be offered for train paths currently used by Eurostar at peak times, should a new entrant not be able to secure such access through the usual procedure for path allocation by the infrastructure managers.
The commission said it takes the view that the commitments offered reduce the barriers to entry for new operators seeking to provide international rail passenger transport services on the London-Paris and London-Brussels routes.