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EU’s biometric passport checks could lead to limits for Eurostar passenger numbers

EU’s biometric passport checks could lead to limits for Eurostar passenger numbers

The European Union’s planned Entry/Exit System (EES) could cause hour-long queues for the Eurostar railway service in the UK and force the company to limit the number of passengers traveling to the continent, the high-speed rail service has warned.

Eurostar says that the new EES checks at the rail station are “severely inadequate” and has written to members of the UK Parliament and the European Scrutiny Committee, The Guardian reports. Eurostar services to Belgium, France and the Netherlands from London’s St Pancras railway station recorded 18.9 million passengers in 2023 with a goal to carry 30 million people each year by 2030.

One of the main issues highlighted is the performance of pre-departure kiosks. The French government has so far only allocated 24 EES kiosks even though modeling shows that nearly 50 would be needed at peak times.

“We are told that the proposed kiosks are ‘optional’ as the process can be delivered at the border, but 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,” Eurostar writes.

Eurostar uses “SmartCheck” biometric gates at St Pancras utilizing iProov technology.

Another obstacle is the uncertain timeline of remote pre-registration for the EES. The European Commission and Frontex have confirmed that they are developing a mobile application for pre-registration that includes a Schengen visa questionnaire, a passport scan and a live image record.

Using the app would speed up the process with passengers required to just add a fingerprint at a kiosk or with a border guard. But even with pre-registration available through apps or websites, St Pancras station is still likely to face delays and congestion, Eurostar warns.

The rail service has also expressed concern about rigid legal interpretations of the EES and Schengen regulations which could lead to longer or redundant processes to board trains to Europe. While the EES could be introduced in October 2024, the EU is also planning the introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) which has been pushed to May 2025. The UK, on the either hand, is planning its own Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme.

London’s St Pancras station is not the only one facing the prospect of hours-long queues. Last week, local authorities told the European Scrutiny Committee that the Port of Dover could expect 14-hour-long queues if the EES is implemented.

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