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Hopes rise for Calais-Kent commuter link

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10:38 CEST+02:00

There is growing momentum for a cross-Channel "metro" link from the French port of Calais to the English county of Kent, after a meeting on Thursday between business leaders and politicians.


The meeting, held in the Kent town of Ashford, discussed the possibility of a 25-minute train service Ashford and the French port of Calais. 

Newspaper Le Figaro quoted French company boss, Olivier Cadic, who based his business in Ashford and supports a cross-Channel link. 

"We have a hard time recruiting because the high costs of accommodation in Kent mean people on modest salaries find it hard to live here," he said. "Yet, just on  the other side of the Channel, in Calais, there's 25 percent unemployment."

The French train operator, SNCF, already has a number of its regional TER trains that are equipped to run through the tunnel. They were bought with an earlier Lille-Manchester project in mind. 

Existing high-speed Javelin trains which run in the south-east of England could also be used to run through the tunnel without any technical modification. 

The prospect of the link was given a further boost earlier in October when Eurotunnel, which owns and operates the tunnel, said it would offer cash incentives to launch the service.

Jacques Gounon, the Eurotunnel chief executive, said he thought a regular service between Kent and the Nord-Pas de Calais region would help boost the economy by letting people commute to work on either side of the Channel.

"We cannot understand why such a connection doesn't already exist," he told a jobs fair in Calais, reported the Kent Online website. "I'm willing to make some discounts if tolls are an issue because I believe we must take the lead."

The tunnel is currently used for Eurostar high-speed train services between London, Paris and Brussels as well as for Eurotunnel trains that carry cars and trucks. Just 55 percent of the tunnel's capacity is currently used.

Some of the Eurostar trains link Ashford and Calais but services are too infrequent and prices too high for a regular commute.

The French Consul General in London is optimistic. "It's certain that this will happen," he said. "You just have to look at a map to see how the two regions complement each other."

Le Figaro reported that the ball is now in the court of the Nord-Pas de Calais region who need to decide whether there is sufficient demand to support the link.


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