Eurostar has appealed to the UK government for urgent financial support, warning that it is “fighting for its survival” with just one train a day connecting London to Paris.
Passengers on the cross-Channel train service have declined 95% since March, but are currently believed to be below 1% of pre-Covid levels under travel restrictions that will last until at least December .
Eurostar Managing Director Jacques Damas wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for help after the Treasury announced it would help ailing airports with up to £ 8million each, based on their equivalent commercial tariffs.
Eurostar is hoping to receive similar help, as well as a review of the track access charges it pays to use the UK’s only section of high-speed rail line, held on a concession by HS1 Ltd.
A spokesperson said: “The new system of tariff relief for airports puts Eurostar at a direct disadvantage compared to its competitors. Eurostar is fighting for its survival against a 95% drop in demand, while aviation has received more than £ 1.8 billion in support in the form of loans, tax deferrals and funding.
“We would call for this program to be extended to include international rail services and, more generally, for the government to integrate high-speed rail into its support for the travel sector, and in so doing, help protect Europe’s green door. .
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transport said ministers recognized the significant financial challenges Eurostar faces, adding: “The government has engaged a lot with Eurostar on a regular basis since the start of the epidemic. We will continue to work closely with them as we support the safe restoration of international travel. “
Eurostar carried 11 million passengers last year and planned to expand its services with the introduction of direct trains to Amsterdam.
However, it currently only operates four total services per day, with a roundtrip service to Brussels as well as Paris. Due to social distancing requirements, the maximum capacity of each train was halved, but many tickets remained unsold.
Eurostar is majority owned by SNCF, but has reportedly exhausted Paris government assistance options. Franchised UK rail operators bailed out under emergency deals since the coronavirus pandemic – at a cost of £ 8 billion this fiscal year – are also largely owned or co-owned by foreign state rail operators.
The RMT union said Eurostar was “looking into the abyss” and urged the government to intervene. Its general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “It is totally wrong that Eurostar, an environmentally friendly service, is a beacon for the future of our railways, is denied the kind of financial support offered. at airports. “
Damascus told Sunak the company supports all measures to revive international travel, but opposes the treatment of the only international rail link with the aviation industry – especially given the comparative environmental costs of rail, at one point. where the government has expressed its green ambitions. . Eurostar says its emissions are almost 90% lower than those of equivalent flights.
Its UK terminus, London St Pancras, which is part of the HS1 concession, passes costs on to operators in the same way as airports, Eurostar argues, but has not shared the same emergency funding.