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The Channel Métro: A commuter's dream come true?
FranceInLondon.com decided to investigate the progress of the project.
Opale Link: the project’s initiator
The “Channel Métro” project was initiated by Opal Link and Thaddée Segard,
president. It sprung from a basic observation: whereas Calais is experiencing high levels of unemployment, Kent is in increasing need of a workforce; and whereas real-estate prices are high on the British side, housing is relatively good value on the French one.
It would seem a natural conclusion then, that the development of cross-channel exchanges would be beneficial to both sides. It is with this thought in mind that Segard has been toying with the idea of developing an alternative and more efficient transport system for commuters on either side of the Channel.
Mobilised and motivated politics
Slowly but surely, the project is advancing, due in no small part to the hard work of politicians and diplomats such as Edouard Braine, General Consul to the United Kingdom, and Olivier Cadic, elected representative of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad. In addition to this, the counties of Kent and Calais have also mobilised. And, judging by Jacques Gounon’s (president of Eurotunnel) speech at the conciliation meetings last June, the rail company also appears to be open to the project.
Blue skies ahead?
Anticipation is certainly mounting amongst the commuters. In these times of increasing globalisation and the building of a political Europe, how can France and England not want to facilitate cross-border commuting? Every day, French people use the Channel tunnel to make their way to work, such as SBE (Societe Boulonnaise Electronique) employees. To cater for this growing trend, the Cross-Border Jobs Fair takes place every year at the at the Calais Frethun International train station (this year it is on 7th October). During the day, job market specialists, French, Belgian and English companies, job-seekers, graduates and young people can inquire about, discuss, and offer their own perspectives on bilingual work experience. According to the Mayor of Frethun, the event is a vector for economic exchange between both countries, and is the result of a strong local, regional and governmental dynamic, such as the cross-border métro.
Hélène spends a third of her annual earnings on transport
Shocking yet true… Every day for the past four years Hélène Haem has travelled from
Bleriot to Dover where she teaches French at Astor College. It is a fantastic opportunity for her as she trained for English teaching diplomas and is well paid. Unfortunately, due to her personal situation, she is unable to move to England. Indeed, due to her husband is a customs officer in Calais and that she also has a nine month old baby, her only option is to travel by car on the Channel Shuttle each morning. The resulting figures are astounding: a 3 hour commute each day (including the 30 minute wait before boarding) and over 700 Euros spent on 20 return trips. This, of course, doesn’t
even begin to take into account the amount spent on fuel. Understandably, Hélène is now disillusioned, and though initially excited about the cross-border métro, she admits she no longer believes in the much discussed project, which she describes as“A lot of talk and no action”. Tired of being treated like a tourist by Eurotunnel, she is in endless communication with the company. Alas, her demands for more consideration and priority status on trains for daily commuters during busy periods such as bank holidays are yet to be met.
Financially and legally…it’s a little complicated
Interestingly, even though the tunnel is never used to its maximum capacity ( 52-57% being the average), Eurotunnel is still prone to charging incredibly high prices: speedy
boarding is available, but only if you can afford the 129 Euro price tag- something which few of the commuters can do. Add to this the fact that there is still no “cross-border commuter” status, and one can begin to grasp the nightmare that this daily commute is for so many.
So what is stopping the project from taking place? According to Anne-Sophie Legendre, Head of Transport for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, the biggest obstacle is the legal difference between both countries rail systems: in France, transport is a regional responsibility, whereas in the UK, it is state controlled.
It is worth noting that this is not the only cross-border project that is taking place: a European project called “Project RoCK”(regions of connected knowledge) is also gathering speed. Its aim is to create more links between English, German, Belgian, French and Dutch Universities and to promote cross-border exchanges between universities and research departments. The results of the research currently being done for the project will be announced on 22nd November in Lille. This will undoubtedly be a fantastic opportunity for, but it will be a while yet before anybody can benefit from it.
Nevertheless, the Channel Métro is still a distinct probability!
The Channel Métro is part of the aims of the “Employment Plan” led by Edouard Braine, a project put in place by the French consulate to tackle unemployment. Olivier Cadic, elected representative of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad, is one of several ardent advocators of the project, and says that the conference which will take place on 20th October at Ashford is set to be promising. Of course, the fast-approaching Olympic games are yet another string to the project’s bow. Though not exactly advancing rapidly, Thaddée Segard of Opale Link remains ever the optimist about the project, stating categorically that “it will definitely take off in 2012!”.