On Tuesday this week I was on Eurostar 9161, the 1952 departure from Bruxelles Midi to London St Pancras, with stops in Lille Europe, Calais Fréthun and Ebbsfleet. Shortly after departure from Lille the train manager made an announcement, telling us that a control of tickets and identity papers would be made between Lille and Calais.

Two youngish, surly French men passed through the train, one wearing a working man’s sweater and boots, the other with a bomber jacket with US baseball insignia on it, each of them with little, fluorescent Eurostar armbands. One asked me to see my ticket.

“What’s the reason for this control?” I asked him in French, as he looked at my ticket and showed no interest in my passport. “It’s just to check the tickets, to see that people have tickets, to see if they are sitting in the correct carriage.” I told him I had moved from the neighbouring carriage, and despite the fact I had an odd DB ticket, he was fine with it and off he went.

Notably this control was not the same as the rail police control from a few weeks ago. I still do not understand its purpose though, not least because my ticket was stamped by the UK Borders control in Bruxelles, and my ticket and passport were checked in London too (the Lille loophole checks). Why do a second level of these checks in the train as well – if that’s what this check was for? There were also 4 civilian security personnel on the platform at Calais, kitted out in bright orange jackets, but notably these were civilian security guards – were they something to do with it too? In the past there have sometimes been armed military present at Calais.

What is going on with all of this?

5 Comments

  1. The exact same thing just happened on the 20.30 9161 train

  2. I don’t see why having immigration officers on trains is more expensive. If it takes 1 hour to process people in London, then the same number of officers could process everyone on the train. If it takes 20 mins to process everyone in London, then they could have a third of the number of officers on the train.

    The only alternative is to force everyone off in Calais and do the check there, like when flying. Every other country with cross-border trains seems to be able to have officers on board – such as Vancouver-Seattle, New York-Montreal, Singapore-Johor Bahru, Vladivostok-Beijing.

  3. Peter Ward

    All passports used to be checked at Brussels, even for those travelling to Lille. Someone realised that this violated the Schengen agreement, so passport checks for passengers with tickets to Lille were removed. They now pass through a separate entrance, bypassing all border controls. Once on the train, these people can remain on board and enter the UK illegally – hence the additional checks. My pal at the UKBA tells me if they find an overstayer, procedures are in place to progress the matter.

    See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16092647

  4. I suspect that the dust is yet to settle since the Vine Report threw the UKBA into disarray, but this seems a somewhat delayed “knee-jerk” reaction if it is one.

    My lasting hope, having heard reports of this nature for several months now, is that this is a temporary consequence of heightened Olympic security, rather than something more sinister. A backward step for Eurostar border control could be fatal.

    If we’re trying to sell the superiority of train travel, the last thing we want to do is make the experience *more* like an airline.

  5. I was on a Eurostar back from Brussels last week as well. in addition to the checks you had there were two UK Community Support Officers in hi-res uniform. I think they must have got on at Calais as I can’t recall we stopped at Ashford or Ebbsfllet. Walking up and down the train simply peering at everyone. Presumably it is the May pandering to the Daily Mail.

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