Eurostar ‘in very critical’ state, warns rail boss

PARIS: Eurostar, the train operator that runs services through the Channel Tunnel, is in “a very critical” state after a collapse in travel between Britain and the European continent, a top French rail executive warned on Friday.
Until recently a symbol of easy high-speed rail travel in Europe, Eurostar has been crippled by the coronavirus crisis, with its special platforms and facilities in Paris, London and Brussels now eerily quiet.
The group is currently running just one service a day between Paris and London, a far cry from the time before COVID-19 when it would operate two trains an hour during peak times.
“I’m very worried about Eurostar,” Christophe Fanichet, a senior executive from France’s state SNCF railways, which is the majority shareholder of Eurostar, told reporters. “The company is in a critical state, I’d even say very critical,” added Fanichet, who heads SNCF Voyageurs, the passenger unit of the network.
He said the Eurostar’s passenger numbers were down 85 per cent 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.
All the while, travel restrictions keep getting tighter, with France announcing on Thursday that arrivals from Britain will need to observe a seven-day quarantine and undertake a PCR test at the end.
Britain already has a quarantine system in place.
Fanichet said the problem for the London-based group 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.
“Given the passenger numbers, it’s a group that has been hit more than airlines,” he said.
It was currently negotiating a government loan in Britain and could be further recapitalised via its shareholders.
In November, Eurostar Chief Executive Jacques Damas wrote that there was a “risk that this iconic service will be left to fail, threatening jobs, connectivity and reversing the progress to reduce travel emissions.”
Writing for the Independent newspaper, he said that 200 million euros had been already secured from its shareholders, but he called for more help from the British government.
The group is 55 per cent owned by the SNCF, 30 per cent by Canadian institutional fund manager Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ), 10 per cent by Britain-based fund Hermes Infrastructure, and five per cent by the Belgian railway SNCB.
Eurostar had been gradually expanding its services, with new lines opened up from London to Amsterdam, the Alps, the south of France and other destinations in recent years in addition to the regular lines between Paris and Brussels. — AFP