App to cut EU border queues won't be ready in time

Eurostar train on platform

An app designed to reduce disruption for Brits travelling across the Channel will not be ready in time for a new EU border scheme, the boss of Eurostar has told the BBC.

Under the much-delayed Entry Exit System (EES), non-EU citizens will need to register fingerprints and a photo at the border from October.

It was hoped the app developed by the EU could allow passengers to do this remotely, and prevent long queues for UK travellers.

However, Eurostar boss Gwendoline Cazenave told the BBC that the rail firm was preparing for the checks to happen at stations as the app will not be ready in time.

EES will replace passport stamping. It is meant to give more oversight of who is entering and leaving the EU.

But there have been repeated warnings that the extra time taken for people to complete their initial registration will cause long queues at the Port of Dover, Eurostar and Eurotunnel terminals.

French border police carry out checks at these sites as people depart the UK.

Eurostar's Gwendoline Cazenave with Team GB athletes at London St Pancras station
Eurostar's Gwendoline Cazenave with Team GB athletes at London St Pancras station [BBC]

Ms Cazenave said Eurostar had begun installing more than 49 kiosks at St Pancras in preparation for the change to EES this autumn.

“It’s all about preparing the customer flow in the station, and to have as many staff as possible, as [much] space for the customers to cross the border in a seamless way,” she said.

The Eurostar boss said the app would make things smoother, and while the EU had said it would launch EES without it, “we’re sure they will deploy it soon”.

The Port of Dover is expected to have particular queue problems because of its constrained space, and the number of cars, coaches and lorries it handles.

In March, a P&O Ferries director said the IT system should be delayed again beyond October.

Eurotunnel owner Getlink is building new processing areas at Folkestone and Calais to cope with the changes.

Recovering passenger numbers

Eurostar’s passenger numbers and revenue plummeted in the pandemic, but by the end of last year the cross-Channel train operator had recovered to pre-Covid levels.

It expects up to two million passengers during the Paris Olympics and Paralympics this summer.

Eurostar has partnerships with Team GB, the Belgian, and the Dutch teams - and the German Olympic team.

Ms Cazenave said that when London-Paris tickets went on sale in November, sales were three times the usual volume.

She acknowledged Eurostar ticket prices were higher than air fares, but said it was “not the same service”, as trains delivered customers straight into city centres and there were no extra charges for things like luggage and seat reservations.

She added there was also an appetite for sustainable travel.

More on this story