Anyone who was unfortunate enough to be caught up in Kent’s Operation Stack this summer - or who still lives in fear of the M20, lest the loathed traffic ‘solution’ should be sprung upon us again at a moment’s notice - will have every sympathy for those who have ditched the car and climbed aboard a train to Europe instead.
Eurostar saw a 5.1% increase in passenger numbers in July compared to last year, transporting more than a million people to set a new record for a single month. The company has also had a record second quarter, carrying 2.8million travellers, and August looks set to be a bumper month too. Now, this might be pure coincidence, but it would be fair to assume that the traffic hell endured by parts of mid and east Kent recently probably had some bearing on the increase. Although Eurostar services have also experienced some delays due to migrant activity in Calais, the prospect of potentially having to fight their way through traffic gridlock just to reach Eurotunnel or the Dover ferry port must have impacted on many people’s travel plans.
Although it’s generally much cheaper to travel to France by ferry or Eurotunnel than Eurostar, particularly if you’re piling the whole family into the car, money will probably have become less of a concern for those holidaymakers who have seen the eye-watering images of traffic queues on the M20 and A20 this summer. Sitting in jams near Folkestone for hours, while the kids go crazy in the back of the car and your booked departure time ticks ever nearer, does not make a dream start to any vacation. Suddenly, the prospect of paying extra to avoid the danger zone entirely by hopping on a train at St Pancras, Ebbsfleet or even Ashford International (if you can get there) would have taken on a whole new appeal…
Many businesses in the South East have suffered untold difficulties due to Stack and will continue to do so in the coming months and years, until - if - an alternative solution is found. But the transport problems have not been bad news for everyone and it appears that Eurostar may be one of the lucky few for whom the chaos has had unexpected benefits.