The cross-Channel high-speed train company Eurostar, hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, warns that it could find itself bankrupt at the end of spring without government help.
“Disaster is possible,” Eurostar chief executive Jacques Damas said on Monday, reports the Belga news agency, calling on both the UK and the French government for support.
A suspension of payment, “when we have burned up all our cash,” is possible “somewhere in the second quarter, rather in the second half of the second quarter,” Damas said. “But if the crisis were to get even worse, it could even happen a little earlier.”
The Eurostar company, a 55% subsidiary of the SNCF, lost 82% of its turnover last year, compared to 1.1 billion euros in 2019, according to him.
In practice, turnover was divided by twenty from the second to the fourth quarter. “We have been at 5% of turnover since 1 April, to put it very simply,” he noted.
Eurostar “suffers more than the airlines” because of the “accumulation of health rules defined by the different countries” served, namely Great Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Since the beginning of the year, the cross-Channel company has been operating only one return trip from London to Paris and one from London to Amsterdam per day, which are 80% empty.
“There are only essential journeys now,” Damas pointed out, noting that the company makes it a point of honour to “maintain a high level of service.”
Faced with the scale of the crisis, however, Eurostar undertook to drastically reduce its costs, put its staff on short-time working, borrowed £400 million (€450 million) and obtained €210 million from its shareholders.
‘At its lowest level ever’
On Friday, CEO of owner SNCF Voyageurs Christophe Fanichet said that he was “very concerned about Eurostar,” as the company has lost 85% of its passengers in 2020.
“Today, Eurostar traffic is at its lowest level ever. (…) We only have one return trip per day,” he told journalist, with about forty passengers arriving in England, according to the Belga news agency.
“The particularity is that Eurostar has two other defects: it is a French company in England, so it is not helped by the English, and it is not helped by the French because it is in England,” Fanichet said. “It is a company which, in view of the traffic, is more affected than the air industry.”