EC accuses Eurotunnel of overcharging

The Brussels-based European Commission has accused Eurotunnel of overcharging.

Groupe Eurotunnel SA, a company with its headquarters in Paris, France, manages and operates the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France, including the vehicle shuttle services. The European Commission has said that the company is overcharging passengers using the Channel Tunnel, and that the overcharging extends to both passenger and freight traffic.

Further to its assertion, the Commission has urged the British and French governments to investigate the cost structure for using the tunnel and ensure that European Union rules that legislate against excessive track charges are being complied with. The prices that Eurotunnel charges the train companies are passed on to passengers, and the Commission also suggested that 43 percent of the tunnel’s capacity is not being used.

Siim Kallas, the vice-president of the Commission, said, ‘The Channel Tunnel is not being used to its full capacity because of these excessive charges. As a result, more freight is being carried on lorries instead of by rail, freight operators and their customers are being over-charged, and passengers are paying over the odds for their tickets. The current regime is also stifling growth in the rail sector.’

In its response to the accusations, Eurotunnel said that its charges are ‘transparent and not excessive,’ adding that it ‘always sought the development of cross-Channel traffic and concentrates significant resources on this goal.’

The company also said that only Eurostar, the high-speed rail service that connects London with Paris and Brussels, is contesting a claimed lack of transparency in 2014 access charges to the tunnel, and is ‘finding issue with a contract which it has applied for 19 years.’

Competition regulator bars Eurotunnel’s ferry service

The UK’s Competition Commission is to force Eurotunnel’s MyFerryLink cross-Channel ferry service to cease operating from Dover.

The Commission has ruled that Eurotunnel’s interest in the ferry operation, which began last year when it purchased three ferries from bankrupt cross-Channel provider, SeaFrance, could be detrimental to passenger prices. Operating the Channel Tunnel and a ferry service would provide Eurotunnel with more than 50 percent of the Dover-Calais market and as a result prices would rise, the Commission stated.

The Commission also found that the prime reason for Eurotunnel’s purchase of the ferries was to prevent its cross-channel competitor, DFDS/LD lines from buying them. The Commission’s report said, ‘Eurotunnel was concerned that if DFDS/LD obtained the assets cheaply, it could drive down prices for customers.’

If the Commission failed to take action against Eurotunnel, it feared that one of the three present operators on the Dover to Calais route would be likely to leave the market, and Eurotunnel’s share would grow larger still. In order to ensure that the ferries will not be operated by a company with an interest in the rail service, Eurotunnel will be given a limited amount of time to sell the two biggest vessels to competitive purchasers.

Alasdair Smith, chairman of the Eurotunnel/SeaFrance inquiry group and Competition Commission deputy chairman, stated, ‘It cannot be good for competition when Eurotunnel, which already holds a market share of over 40 percent, moves into the ferry business – particularly when it did so to stop a competitor from buying the ferries. Customers would lose out from Eurotunnel increasing its share even further and being able to raise prices on the tunnel services.

‘In view of the current excess capacity on the Dover-Calais route, it also seems likely that one of the current ferry operators will exit in the short term if we don’t take action.

‘Customers will be better off if there are two independent ferry companies competing with the tunnel than if one of the two is owned by Eurotunnel. By preventing Eurotunnel from operating ferry services out of Dover, we can protect the interests of customers.

‘We did consider ordering Eurotunnel to sell the ferries but we were conscious of the uncertainties and possible delays affecting a sale. We can achieve the same outcome this way and it should be clear that we will not be diverted from ensuring the best result for customers.’

Eurotunnel responded that the ruling was ‘incomprehensible and seriously disproportionate’, and its chairman and chief executive, Jacques Gounon, commented, ‘This decision by the Competition Commission will reduce the choice of services across the Straits of Dover to the detriment of the consumer. It will inevitably lead to an increase in the price of a crossing.’

The company has pledged to appeal the ruling.

 

Eurostar Schedule Affected by Strike Action

Eurostar International, a UK-based high-speed rail service between the UK and mainland Europe, has reported that its service to Brussels will be hampered by strike action called by workers in Belgium.

The train operator is likely to cancel its services from London to Brussels between 21.00 hours on Tuesday, October 2, 2012, and 21.00 hours on Wednesday, October 3, 2012, due to the impending industrial action.

The company statement said, ‘During this period of industrial action, Eurostar services to and from Brussels will terminate and commence at Lille Europe station.

Eurostar strongly recommends that all passengers travelling to or from Brussels on Wednesday, October 3, (or on the 19:04 hour departure from London on the October 2) should exchange their tickets for travel before or after. Eurostar will offer refunds or exchanges free of charge regardless of ticket conditions, but subject to availability on alternative services. Customers wishing to re-book their travel should contact their original point of sale, or Eurostar on one of the following numbers;

UK 08432 186 186

Belgium 02 40 06 731

Customers who are unable to travel and wish to refund their tickets should contact their original point of sale, this can be done any time in the next two months.’

For passengers from the UK travelling to or from Lille and other points in France, the company has issued an amended schedule for October 3, 2012. Ticket holders for the journey should consult the new schedule, which will be available on the company website for the entire week, to find out more about arrivals and departures for their route.

The company has reported that its schedule to and from Paris and Disneyland Paris will be running as usual during this week.

Strikes in France – potential disruption for travellers this weekend

Eurotunnel have warned that strikes may affect their services this weekend including delays on road approaches to Eurotunnel check-in.

Those who have already purchased a ticket to travel with Eurotunnel this weekend are advised to make their way to check in as normal, but to expect possible delays and disruption. The company have stopped taking bookings for some Folkestone to Calais and Calais to Folkestone journeys over Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.

More information is available on the Eurotunnel website