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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.

"Eurostar is a carrier and our role is to carry passengers. Ticket distribution is of paramount importance to us and we need to be prepared to allow someone like Google to distribute our tickets. All of these are new ways of accessing our products. If it is simpler to buy our products in this way, I am happy with that. Our role is make sure people can make the right decisions with the best information presented in the best way."

To face the future challenges and make the most of the opportunities on offer, the organisation has been through a series of changes, culminating in becoming a single company -- Eurostar International Ltd -- in September 2010.

"The brand is very well known. We are an Anglo-Franco-Belgo business with a headquarters in London. We have a call centre in Ashford, Kent and a maintenance depot in North East London, and these and our three stations are our big UK locations. We have offices in Paris near Gare du Nord and in Lille and in Brussels." This pan-European effort is one part of the CIO role that appeals to Lemaire, who spent much of his career with French national rail operator SNCF.

"Eurostar is very international and it is wonderful for that. We learn from each other and we have learnt different ways of working," he says of the organisation's 1600 employees, 300 of who are based at the London HQ.

"We are a very lean business and it is rather small business for this sector compared to Deutsche Bahn and SNCF."

That leanness isn't just in terms of people power. The distinctive Alstom train fleet is also lean, Lemaire says, compared to the number of locomotives in the engine sheds of other operators.

"As our fleet is not huge we have to make the best use of it."

Three into one

From its first journey from London to Paris, way back in 1994, the company had been a joint venture between British, French and Belgium railways, each providing the resources needed to offer a seamless service to the customers.

With the Channel Tunnel being opened up to competing rail companies under EU regulations in 2010, the organisation was deemed far too complex to cope with future challenges, and was replaced by the present integrated one.

"We became one normal business with a CEO and the standard structures of an organisation," Lemaire says. For the CIO that meant blending technologies from each of the three previous owners.

"It worked well, but it can be difficult to synchronise and to take decisions was not always easy for a large investment for example," Lemaire says of the time as a joint venture.


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