New EU Biometric Border Checks Prompt Eurostar to Issue Warning About Passenger Caps

By Trisha Andrada

Feb 05, 2024 09:59 AM EST

In light of post-Brexit plans to implement biometric border controls later this year, Eurostar may be compelled to restrict the daily number of passengers departing from St. Pancras, according to the station owner's advice.

HS1, which owns and operates the line and stations connecting London to the Channel Tunnel, is worried that the new Entry/Exit System (EES) checks at the London rail station are inadequately planned and could cause long delays, service caps, and passenger numbers to be limited.

From St. Pancras, Eurostar operates 14 trains daily, with a maximum capacity of 900 people each train.

Waterloo's Final Day As Eurostar Terminal
(Photo : Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)
Eurostar trains prepare to leave Waterloo station on it's last day of operation as a departure point for France and Belgium on November 13, 2007 in London, England.

New EES Policy

Foreign nationals not residing in Europe or the Schengen Area are required to register with EES prior to entering the zone.

According to The Guardian, passengers traveling from the United Kingdom will no longer be able to have their passports stamped; instead, they will be asked to input personal information, itinerary details, and biometric data such as fingerprints and face scans.

The new checks were supposed to go into effect in October, but they have been postponed several times in the past due to infrastructure not being ready.

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Potential Issues

HS1 has repeatedly warned lawmakers that St. Pancras would experience unacceptable delays as a result of the upcoming improvements.

According to the report, the French government has only allotted 24 EES kiosks, even though estimates indicate that about 50 would be required during peak hours.

"Without about 49 additional kiosks located before the current international zone [at St. Pancras], there would be unacceptable passenger delays of many hours and potential capping of services," HS1 said in its testimony to the European scrutiny select committee.

It was anticipated that Eurostar would not be able to handle all passengers using just 24 kiosks, especially during the morning peak. As a result, there may be a need to limit the number of passengers served.

HS1 has said that the EES would be difficult to implement in the Grade I-listed St. Pancras building due to space constraints and that the queuing procedure would be complicated and staggered as a result.

Eurostar said in its own testimony before the committee that kiosks would increase the likelihood of additional lines and complicate flow management, both of which would be detrimental to the timely execution of the schedule and the expansion of rail travel from St. Pancras. It indicated this would add a few minutes to the border processing time, up from 45 seconds, and might cause waits of over an hour at peak periods.

Rather than having the whole procedure overseen by border police, Eurostar CEO Gwendoline Cazenave expressed her expectation that the authorities will let the majority of the process take place online in advance.

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