Eurostar in ‘fight for survival’, calls for urgent financial support to survive Covid-19
The Eurostar and high speed rail urgently need financial support from the UK government to get through the corona crisis. This is what Eurostar CEO Jacques Damas and HS1 CEO Dyan Crowther argue in a letter in The Independent. They report a staggering 95 percent decrease of Eurostar passengers since March this year, and say “the green gateway to Europe is in a fight for its survival”.
A large fall in Eurostar passenger numbers due to Covid-19 restrictions, next to the looming Brexit deadline, is “threatening the very existence of international train travel from the UK”, say Eurostar CEO Jacques Damas and Dyan Crowther, CEO of the high speed line HS1. Eurostar carried 11 million passengers before the pandemic. Currently, they are operating just four daily services. Each train has half of the maximum capacity, and many tickets have remained unsold.
The British government previously announced to financially support struggling airports, addressing fixed costs equivalent to their business rates of 8 million pounds, starting in 2021. The Eurostar CEO calls for similar financial support that would cover fixed costs, “we are now at the point where we believe urgent government intervention is essential to help our businesses and safeguard the high-speed rail connection to Europe.”
British Transport Union RMT also urges the UK government to support the Eurostar financially. General Secretary Mick Cash: “It is wholly wrong that Eurostar, an eco-friendly service that is a beacon for the future of our railways, is being denied the kind of financial support being offered to the airports. The current inaction leaves the service hanging by a thread and all we are asking for is the support needed to maintain viability and stability as we move out of this phase of lockdown and look forward to the future.”
Track access charges
Eurostar’s highest fixed costs are the access charges, and according to Damas they cannot be sustained without income from traveller revenues. Eurostar is already engaged in discussions in France on this issue, and they now ask the UK government for its support and action. This is even more important since the charges in the UK are around three times higher per kilometre, he says.
The CEO’s write in the letter that “at a minimum, a temporary review of these charges is critical to allow Eurostar and HS1 to survive this crisis, protecting the future of this vital high-speed rail link.” They also make a case for further testing on departure at the train terminals, as well as an exemption to quarantine measures for business travellers spending less than 48 hours in the UK.