France, Britain urged to rescue Eurostar from bankruptcy

A passenger boards a Eurostar train at St.Pancras International train station in London, UK, 22 January 2021. [EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN]

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum have called on the French and UK governments to support the financially-moribund Eurostar, as they did with struggling airlines.

“Allowing Eurostar to fail would mean significant job losses and deal a massive blow to sustainable travel between the UK and the EU,” said Ciarán Cuffe, an Irish Green MEP who spearheaded the campaign.

“If this requires funding from both the UK and French governments, then the money must be found. Sustainable travel deserves support,” he added.

The Eurostar has seen a 95% drop in passenger levels since the start of the COVID-19 health crisis, sending its finances in the red.

In a letter sent on Monday (22 February), lawmakers urged French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, British transport secretary Grant Shapps and EU transport commissioner Adina Vălean, to provide financial assistance to ensure the company survives the downturn.

The letter was signed by UK Green Peers Nathalie Bennet and Jenny Jones as well as several political groups in the European Parliament, including the Greens/EFA, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the leftist GUE, and the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

“The future of rail travel across the Channel is at stake if no solution is found,” states the letter. “This would not only negatively impact economies on both sides of the Channel and lead to significant job losses, it would also seriously undermine efforts to make transport more sustainable in Europe,” it says.

Cuffe highlighted that national governments were quick to support airlines struggling with reduced passenger numbers during the pandemic, saying more sustainable transport modes deserved help.

Eurostar on the ropes and ‘fighting for survival’

Cross-Channel high-speed rail operator Eurostar is “fighting for survival” and has urged the UK government to help it ride out a coronavirus-induced collapse in passenger numbers, as Westminster this week signed off on tax relief for major airports in England.

Eurostar officials previously criticised the lack of support offered to rail companies, arguing that international rail services should be eligible for financial assistance given their low environmental impact. The company says that opting to fly from London to Paris emits up to 90% more emissions than taking the train.

Talks between the French and British governments about a potential rescue package for Eurostar are ongoing.

The Eurostar train line provides a high-speed link between London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, using a tunnel that runs under the English Channel. France’s national train company SNCF owns a majority stake in the company.

Recent months have seen the company contend with Brexit related issues in addition to the pandemic, with the European Parliament forced to adopt emergency rules in December to keep the Eurotunnel open.

EU Parliament adopts rules to keep Eurotunnel working

The European Parliament adopted temporary rules on Thursday (17 December) to allow the Eurotunnel handling vehicle and freight traffic under the Channel between the UK and France to keep operating.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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