EUROSTAR is in crisis and reported to be near collapse, after months of very low passenger figures caused by the Covid pandemic and the resulting travel restrictions between Britain and the continent, which have now been tightened again.
The operator is running just a couple of trains a day, and is thought to be facing losses which could amount to as much as £1 billion by the end of this year.
Unlike the formerly franchised passenger operators in Britain, whose businesses have been taken under government control, Eurostar has so far received no financial support from the UK government.
Critics are also contrasting Eurostar’s plight with airlines which have received some support, although they are said to need far more.
Almost half of Eurostar is owned by the French state railway SNCF, but France has also been slow to react. The rest of the company is mainly owned by private investment houses, which bought the original British stake in 2015. The last 5 per cent is owned by Belgian Railways.
Labour shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: ‘The pandemic has hit Eurostar extremely hard, as it has many businesses, and the ban on travel corridors will leave the service in an even more precarious position. The Government must act to secure our economy, and protect UK jobs and infrastructure.
‘We need to see a comprehensive strategy for our regional, national and international railways which goes beyond the current franchise support programme to address the impact of Covid-19 on operations like Eurostar.’
The RMT is calling for ‘urgent, decisive and co-ordinated action’. The union’s general secretary Mick Cash added: ‘It is clear that Eurostar is standing on the brink of collapse and we need urgent Government action to protect the thousands of jobs and vital infrastructure link to the Continent that now hangs by a thread.
‘Eurostar has not benefited from the kind of financial and practical support that has been made available to the airports and ground operations. That needs to be put right as a matter of priority.’
The Department for Transport has repeated previous statements that it is in talks with Eurostar, adding: ‘We will continue to work closely with them as we support the safe recovery of international travel.’
Eurostar has confirmed that it has held similar talks with the French government, but so far apparently without result. Eurostar said access charges are ‘considerably higher’ on HS1 between the Folkestone Channel Tunnel portal and London, ‘hence that being more of a focus’.