The new train will partially replace Eurostar's weekly service from London to Avignon which in 2013 will operate between July and October. This is the first time Eurostar will provide a direct service to Lyon and Aix-en-Provence, popular holiday destinations for British tourists.
Unfortunately, the return journey from Aix to London will be marred by an 80-minute stop in Lille, where passengers will have to disembark for a full security and passport check before being able to continue their journey to Ashford and London. Eurostar is being forced to do this by the UK Border Agency which will not allow passport and security checks to be done on-board the train.
Eurostar has limited facilities to conduct security and passport controls at Avignon, which requires a one-hour check-in rather than the normal 30-minute requirement at the main stations served by Eurostar. However, Eurostar is unable to provide such facilities at Lyon Part-Dieu or Aix-en-Provence for the trial.
Additional passport checks were introduced recently at London St Pancras for passengers arriving on Eurostar services from France and Belgium even though passports are already checked by UK Border Agency staff prior to departure in Brussels, Paris and Lille.
Eurostar says it is in continuous discussion with the UK Border Agency about streamlining immigration procedures, particularly as it wants to launch services to new destinations in 2014 when it starts to receive the 10 Velaro trains it has ordered from Siemens. Such onerous restrictions are a great barrier to establishing new services through the Channel Tunnel as they increase costs considerably, but with strong pressure on the British government to curb immigration, there is little likelihood of them being relaxed.