Travel Nightmare: How Brexit Regulations Are Disrupting Rail Travel Throughout Europe

Europe train
Image Credit: WinsomeMan/Getty Images via

Eurostar trains are being forced to run with hundreds of empty seats due to issues with Brexit passports. The train service, which connects the United Kingdom with France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, is popular with British travelers as it allows them to go abroad without having to fly. 

However, new data has shown that on a typical peak-time service between London, Paris, and Brussels, there are around 350 seats left unsold. Considering a Eurostar train possesses 900 seats, this is an alarming number, and the root cause is said to be processing issues with British passports. 

In 2016, the United Kingdom held a referendum to decide whether it would remain part of the European Union (EU). After a narrow victory for the leave campaign, the country officially left the EU in 2020, and new passports have had to be administered to British citizens. 

There have been many repercussions of the decision to leave the EU, which was labeled “Brexit,” with passport processing on the Eurostar just the latest in a long line. 

Eurostar Bosses Left Frustrated 

Eurostar bosses have said that the demand for travel on their network is still as high as ever, but the time it takes for the new British passports to be stamped is resulting in thousands of people missing their trains. 

The issue stems from the fact that British travelers now must get their passports physically stamped by border control, even after passing through the electronic gates. They have been told to arrive at rail stations 90 minutes before departures, but even that time frame is beginning to look like they need to be longer. 

Eurostar Chief Executive, Gwendoline Cazenave, has blamed a combination of a reduced workforce and Brexit complications for the issue. She said:

“The pandemic reduced the number of border police staff in Paris Nord and St Pancras drastically, and Brexit rules mean you have to stamp UK passports. I have a work permit, and they know who I am, but they ask, ‘what are you going to do in the UK?’ It takes almost 30% more time than before.”

Cazaenave added that it is her priority to resolve the issue quickly with bottlenecks in stations resulting in hundreds of seats going unused every day despite demand for travel in the UK being back to the level it was at pre-Covid. 

Stops in Kent, a County in the South of England ten miles from London, will remain closed for the time being while the company works to resolve the issue in London, Paris, and Brussels. 

An Issue That Might Never Go Away 

Despite Cazenave’s best intentions, it’s difficult to see how the issue will resolve itself in the coming months. New regulations set to be introduced by the European Union could even complicate matters further. 

A new entry-exit system for non-EU nationals traveling to EU countries is in the pipeline, meaning that British travelers need to scan their passports and other travel documents at an automated self-service kiosk every time they cross a border. Although this system has been delayed until 2023, severe delays are expected when it is officially introduced. 

There is some good news for British Eurostar travelers, though. The company has merged with Franco-Belgian operator Thalys which means that Brits can purchase Eurostar tickets to destinations in Germany by the end of the year. 

This article was produced and syndicated by The Impulse Traveler.


Andrew Delaney
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