Transport

Eurostar finances near collapse as Covid cuts cross-channel train traffic

© AP/Lewis Joly
3 min

The cross-channel train service Eurostar has seen its passenger numbers decline by 85 percent in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The parent company has called on the UK government to provide it with the same financial support as that provided to grounded airlines.

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Christophe Fanichet, a senior executive at SNCF, the French state railway and part-owner of Eurostar, said last week that the London-based company was in "a very critical" state after a collapse in travel between Britain and the European continent.

Following a call by British businesses for a UK government rescue of the London-based Eurostar, the parent company on Monday reiterated the need for support.

Need for state support

"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 which has been severely impacted by the pandemic," Eurostar said in a statement.

"Without additional funding from government there is a real risk to the survival of Eurostar, the green gateway to Europe, as the current situation is very serious," it added in reference to trains' lower carbon emissions compared with planes.

Separately, the Department for Transport in London said it recognised "the significant financial challenges facing Eurostar as a result of Covid-19 and the unprecedented circumstances currently faced by the international travel industry".

While it did not refer to the request for financial assistance, the department said it would continue to work closely with Eurostar to ensure "the safe recovery of international travel".

Eurostar is 55 percent owned by the SNCF, 30 percent by Canadian fund manager CDPQ, 10 percent by Britain-based fund Hermes Infrastructure, and five percent by the Belgian railway SNCB.

Passengers down 85 percent

British business leaders have joined the call for the UK government to provide funds to rescue Eurostar.

In a letter dated Friday and sent to British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, London First lobby group said Eurostar needed "swift action to safeguard its future," if Britain's economy and environmental targets were not to suffer further.

Signed by 25 executives and academics, the letter urged Britain's Treasury and Department for Transport not to allow Eurostar to collapse.

"If this viable business is allowed to fall between the cracks of support -- neither an airline, nor a domestic railway -- our recovery could be damaged."

Fanichet last week said Eurostar passenger numbers were down 85 percent in 2020 from the year earlier and that the group was now "on a drip" in need of extra cash to prevent it from collapsing.

He added that the problem for Eurostar was that it was seen as French by the British government and as British by the French, meaning it had been difficult to secure bail-out cash.

Prior to the pandemic, Eurostar had gradually been expanding its services, with new lines opened up from London to Amsterdam, the Alps, the south of France -- in addition to the regular lines between Paris and Brussels.

(With AFP)

 

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