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Eurostar's CIO Christophe Lemaire is focused on tunnel vision

Mark Chillingworth | Nov. 28, 2012
"There is a lot of ambition to connect the rail services in Europe," says Christophe Lemaire, CIO of the rail operator that originally connected London to the rest of Europe -- Eurostar. Europe's currency and community is having a tough time at present. This is creating hyperbole of currency and community collapse, but a discussion with Lemaire reminds me how integrated our European lives have become and how the business community has hardly left the platform of European possibilities.

Open platforms

Eurostar won't have carte blanche over this new connected Europe. With greater connectivity of Europe's rail networks will come greater competition in the marketplace and a greater variety of rail liveries on the platforms of St Pancras and Paris's Gare du Nord.

"Competition is something we know about. We are successful at the London-to-Paris route and we have 75 per cent of the market share in competition against the airlines, the tunnel and ferry services.," says Lemaire.

"We are the only rail operator between Paris and London. Do we bet it will always be the case? No," he says directly. "Some of our competitors such as Deutsche Bahn made it clear they wanted to compete and they bought their train to London. The question is: when will they start offering services? We are trying to guess the initial date. It was set for December 2013, but now they have pushed that back."

But despite this delayed challenge, Lemaire is not complacent. He explains that while connecting the UK and Europe has become simpler with the tunnel, it is still a challenging new market for even well established firms to enter.

"It's a complex business. There is a lot to organise and invest before you can run the first train as a competitor. In our case the need to run in the tunnel makes things even a bit more special. In all cases the competition will be governed by EU regulations which clearly define the rights and obligations of a new entrant and of the incumbent operator.

"Today we don't want to be complacent," he says of the need to not become overly focused on the future rivalry coming down the tracks. "We are in a strong position, but that also depends on the dynamics of the airline business." Lemaire and the Eurostar management are clearly aware of the threat budget airlines pose to their business and of a consumer group that is so used to flying it treats air travel akin to flagging down a cab.

"One of the pillars of our future is to be a gateway to Europe and the UK and to offer a mix of travel solutions," he says. I get the impression that like the airline industry, rail operators will compete for your ticket purchase, but will also have to collaborate closely to enable you to reach your destination by rail, rather than in the air or at the wheel of a car.

But competition isn't just between the various travel providers: Lemaire is well aware of the presence of Google in the US airline ticketing search space and expects to see the technology industry challenge the ticketing business operated by Eurostar and their rivals in both rail and air travel. Lemaire welcomes the competition, and as a technologist he sees benefits for consumers and travellers who will, for example, be able to manage their travel needs through a smartphone.


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