Soon passengers boarding the Eurostar won't need to present their passports as the cross-Channel rail operator prepares to introduce facial recognition technology.

The scheme is similar to facial recognition technology in place at major airports including London's Heathrow and Shanghai's Hongqiao. Set to launch in March 2021, the Eurostar system will be a first for rail travel, allowing for passport-free train journeys between the UK and France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Under the system, passengers buying Eurostar tickets will have the option to choose a "pre-boarding" option, which is the facial recognition option. Those who opt in must pre-load a selfie and a photo of their passport before travelling. When they arrive at St Pancras station (Eurostar's London terminus), the system will scan their face, compare it to the one of their passport in the app and then tie it to their ticket details. A kiosk will be installed at St Pancras to allow those without smartphones to use the same system.

In a statement, Gareth Williams, strategy director at Eurostar, said: "we’re convinced it will enhance our passenger experience and offer a live illustration of how innovation can benefit the high-speed rail and international transport industries."

A sign directs Eurostar International Ltd. passengers towards boarding platform
The technology is due to be rolled out in March 2021 ©Bloomberg/Getty Images

The project is being rolled out by UK-based biometrics company iProov and partly funded by the the UK's Department for Transport. 

"This is a world first. Iproov is enabling train passengers to choose to travel without tickets or documentation in a way that is safe and secure," Andrew Budd, iProov's CEO said in a statement. "What started off as a project to reduce travel congestion and keep passengers moving is now going to help keep people safe in a pandemic world.”

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