Jacques Damas urged the Prime Minister to encourage more Britons to use Eurostar instead of flying to Northern Europe.
“If the UK government wants to commit to its goal of reducing carbon emissions … then it has to activate the right levers,” he said. “This high speed [railway] in the world has a lot of remaining capacity.
French President Emmanuel Macron is cracking down on domestic flights by banning services that can be traveled by direct train in less than two and a half hours.
Mr Damascus added: “If you don’t want to ban, but give an incentive, it’s very easy. If you just work with the tax system. If you only take £ 1. Take £ 1 more by taxing fuel for airplanes, and take that £ 1 as a reduction in rail access charges.
The remarks are likely to anger airlines which have suffered higher air passenger tax rates than their overseas rivals and continue to fight the fallout from the airline industry’s worst crisis.
In a broad interview with The telegraph (below) Mr Damascus said the UK’s decision to end the quarantine for fully vaccinated EU and US citizens would play a key role in Eurostar’s takeover. But this remains in balance with Britain currently at daggers drawn with France over its decision to distinguish it as the only European country for which a 10-day quarantine will still be required.
The operator secured a £ 250million bailout from shareholders and lenders in May, but much of the money is due to be repaid by March.
“The refinancing we have allows us to feed the business until the end of winter,” he said.
“Not only does this business need to recover, but this business needs to be able to pay off its huge debt. Right now, our debt is equivalent to a year’s income. We are approaching 1 billion euros in debt.
Eurostar only provides four services per day compared to 25 normally.
Mr Damascus remains hopeful that Eurostar will be able to merge with the Franco-Belgian operator Thalys in the first half of next year. This could lead to Eurostar trains running for the first time between two stations on the continent.
Interview with Jacques Damas: “The important thing is that this company survives”
The irony of Britain’s strict approach to Covid border controls is not lost on Jacques Damas.
“It’s weird,” said the boss of Eurostar. “Usually the British people and the UK as a country are known for their pragmatism [as] opposed to the Cartesian state of mind of the French.
It was a point he was not afraid to make to Edward Llewellyn, the outgoing French ambassador, at a crucial meeting last Friday to discuss border policy.
Sources at Whitehall say Eurostar bosses were at that time “in panic” about the UK’s strict rules, which, if extended, would put Eurostar back on track to collapse again.
Double-bitten Britons returning from France must still be quarantined for 10 days upon their return, despite the country being on the orange list.