Britain, France face EU action over high Eurostar charges
By Ethan Bilby
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission has given France and Britain two months to respond to a request to lower charges for passenger and freight trains to use the Channel Tunnel, or face possible court action, it said on Thursday.
The Commission said the illegally high track access charges result in higher ticket prices for passengers of the high-speed Eurostar service linking London with Paris and Brussels.
"Access charges for passenger services and freight are much higher than they need to be," an EU official said, saying usage of the tunnel was less than it should be because of the cost.
Tunnel operator Eurotunnel charges a reservation fee of 4,320 euros ($5,800) one way for Eurostar trains and 16.60 euros per passenger. EU officials said the charges should be roughly half that amount, and the excess meant only 43 percent of the tunnel's capacity is used.
EU officials said if the charges were lower, the tunnel could make up the difference through increased freight traffic, forecasting a doubling of the amount of daily freight trains.
Under EU law, rail companies are only allowed to charge fees consistent with the amount of wear caused by a train journey.
But the officials said the Commission investigation found operators of the Channel Tunnel were charging higher-than-necessary access charges, and using this income to subsidize the operator's car shuttle service, which does not pay such charges.
Officials said the tunnel had sought an exception to levy higher access charges to pay construction costs. They said the investigation did not find evidence to support this, and noted that Eurotunnel's financing costs declined significantly after a write-off in 2007. Continued...