Eurostar survival on the line, UK lobby group calls for rescue

Eurostar, the train operator that runs services through the Channel Tunnel, says there is a ‘real risk’ that it won’t survive the crisis without government aid. British media report Eurostar has called for a UK government bailout following a collapse in travel between Britain and the European continent due to Covid-19. A prominent UK lobby group also appeals to the government saying ‘swift action’ is needed.

The train operator, which is 55 percent owned by French state railroad SNCF, said in an email on Sunday that there’s a “real risk” to its survival without government funding reports the Financial Times. The company has to deal with a 95 percent decrease of Eurostar passengers since the pandemic started.

Extend airline support to rail

“We are encouraged by the government-backed loans that have been awarded to airlines and would once again ask that this kind of support be extended to international high-speed rail”, the company said. In november, Eurostar CEO Jacques Damas also called for government support, but as of yet without avail.

Lately there have only been a few Eurostar trains a day, which link London with Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. New travel restrictions make it even more difficult. As of Monday, all passengers must be able to present a negative corona test result of no more than 72 hours before departure upon arrival in the UK. The rules also say to quarantine for 10 days unless they test negative a second time five days after arrival.

French or British?

The UK sold its 40 percent holding in Eurostar in 2015 before the elections, making the question of government funding more complicated. The UK’s Department for Transport said: “The government has been engaging extensively with Eurostar on a regular basis since the beginning of the outbreak. We will continue to work closely with them as we support the safe restart and recovery of international travel.”

Christophe Fanichet, head of SNCF Voyageurs, said last week that Eurostar has suffered from being viewed in the UK as a French business that was not supported by the British, and in France as a UK-based business not aided by the French, Agence France-Presse reported.

Firms lobby for support

Shareholders have already pumped in 200 million euros (178 million pounds) to keep Eurostar afloat during the crisis, but Eurostar says more money is necessary. British firms are also concerned for the survival of the train operator, in a letter lobby group London First says Eurostar needs “swift action to safeguard its future”. The letter, obtained by Bloomberg, is sent to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and signed by more than 25 executives and academics. The lobby group emphasises that Eurostar has become an especially vital international link following Brexit and benefits the environment by providing a fast alternative to air travel.

In response to the lobby’s call, Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), representing rail businesses across the UK, said: “Eurostar is a vital part of the country’s international connectivity. It supports thousands of jobs and investments across the country. In such turbulent times, it is vital that Eurostar has the certainty it needs, and rail suppliers have the confidence and certainty they need, to enable it to continue to deliver services and support the wider UK economy. Not just now during these difficult months, but also for the future recovery.”

Author: Esther Geerts

Editor of RailTech.com

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