Eurostar journeys are set to become completely contactless with the announcement of the UK’s first "biometric entry corridor".
Passengers departing London St Pancras will soon be able to complete ticket and border checks without contact with people or hardware.
The concept has already been trialled in airports to speed up and safely manage immigration, and will debut at St Pancras in March 2021.
The developer behind the technology underpinning the system, iProov, claims the rollout will be a world first, enabling passengers to choose to travel without physical tickets or documentation "in a way that is safe and secure".
It has been backed and funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) as part of the First of a Kind competition run by Innovate UK, which supports research, development and innovation across the UK rail industry. The DfT proposes to cover the entire project cost of £388,440.
“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 through social distancing and contactless interaction," said iProov founder and chief executive Andrew Bud.
Passengers planning to travel on Eurostar services will be offered an accelerated pre-boarding option. Prior to travelling, they would use the Eurostar app to scan their identity documentation before "iProoving" themselves.
iProov’s facial biometric check uses controlled illumination to authenticate the user’s identity against an ID document. As well as checking the user is the right person, matching the identity in their passport, the illumination process checks the user is a real person rather than a photo, video or someone wearing a mask. It also checks the user is authenticating in real-time.
Passengers will then receive a message confirming their identity document had been secured, ensuring a ticket and/or passport does not need to be shown again until they reach their destination.
Upon arrival at St Pancras International, the passenger would enter the contactless travel corridor and proceed in distanced fashion before boarding the train. A kiosk will be available for passengers without access to a smartphone to complete the same process.
iProov’s solution is being developed in partnership with Eurostar and Canadian travel and immigration software specialist WorldReach.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the scheme would ensure passengers have a more efficient, reliable and responsive railway.
Gareth Williams, Eurostar strategy director and company secretary, added: "We are very pleased to be working with iProov on this important innovation.
"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."