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Trains won't take the strain

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Cross-Channel train operator Eurostar says it will be unable to co-operate with plans to check everyone entering the UK against crime, terror and immigration watchlists, dealing a major blow to the government's £750m e-Borders programme.

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee today, Eurostar customer services director Marc Noaro told MPs the requirement to collect and report passenger information to the central e-Borders database, prior to travel, was illegal on the Continent.

"It is not lawful for somebody who is not a law enforcement officer in France and Belgium to demand that information at check in," he said.

Eurostar carried at total of 9.1 million passengers in 2008, so its participation in e-Borders would be essential for the government to "count everyone in and out", as it pledged in its 2006 immigration review. e-Borders was however first announced by then-Home Secretary David Blunkett in 2004 amid political controversy over illegal migration.

The e-Borders system now currently scheduled to check 95 per cent journeys in and out of the UK by December next year. Officials have planned that remaining gaps such as small marinas and airfields will be covered by March 2014.

Under e-Borders, the cost of collecting and reporting passenger identities falls on airlines, ferry companies, and Eurostar and Eurotunnel. They must report both their booking lists and the lists of passengers who make the journey.

A Eurostar spokesman told The Register the company was "extremely concerned" about the "operational, legal and commercial" implications of the scheme. In particular, he said, it will have a detrimental impact on the speed of check-in, which passengers see as a main selling point over air travel.

Eurostar plans to await the Select Committee's report, but pointed to similar comments to MPs today from shipping industry representatives. "We will continue lobbying," the spokesman said. ®

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