A group of companies including the UK coach and train service company Mobico has held detailed talks over launching a cross-Channel train service to rival Eurostar.
Other parties involved in the discussions include the Spanish Cosmen industrialist family, which is an investor in Mobico, formerly known as National Express, according to two people with knowledge of the plans.
The new rail service between London and Paris through the Channel Tunnel would start running as early as 2025, they said, although final details have yet to be finalised and could change. The consortium had held discussions with other investors over funding, they added.
The initiative would represent the first challenge to Eurostar’s current monopoly of passenger rail traffic linking London to major cities in Europe including Brussels and Paris.
There has long been talk of other companies taking on Eurostar, but no competitors have yet been able to overcome the logistical and financial challenges of operating services through the Channel Tunnel.
The group has been discussing an order with French train maker Alstom, and with the operators of both the Channel Tunnel and high-speed rail infrastructure in the UK, one of the people said.
The Cosmen family, which sold its Madrid bus company to National Express in 2005, is the biggest shareholder in the UK group.
Mobico, the Cosmen family and Alstom declined to comment.
The plan comes as Eurostar has struggled to increase capacity at its stations because of post-Brexit border checks. The Franco-Belgian company has outlined plans to double passenger numbers from 15mn in 2022 to 30mn by 2030.
One industry executive said border delays would have to be fixed through the use of new technology before any extra operator was feasible.