The cross-Channel high-speed train company Eurostar, which is in great difficulty because of the coronavirus crisis, will get state support, French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told a parliamentary committee on Thursday.
The French government is working on a plan together with the UK government, according to Djebbari.
“We will assist Eurostar to maintain this strategic link between our two countries,” he said, adding that the aid will be “proportional pro-rata to the importance of Eurostar to each.”
The goal is to make Eurostar “sustainable from a financial standpoint,” according to Djebbari, who said that talks have been going on with his UK counterpart Grant Shapps for weeks.
“When the time comes, we will lay down the principles and modalities of support, which will most certainly go through the [French railway company] SNCF,” which is a 55% shareholder in Eurostar, he said.
In addition to the SNCF, Eurostar is 40% owned by the Patina Rail consortium – made up of 30% by the ‘Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec’ and 10% by the British fund Hermes Infrastructure. The last 5% are with the Belgian SNCB railway company.
Heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Eurostar warned on Monday that it could find itself bankrupt before summer, if the British and French governments did not come to its rescue.
“Disaster is possible,” its managing director Jacques Damas told AFP on Monday, noting that turnover had fallen by 82% last year, and that the situation had worsened further since the start of the year.
Eurostar has done everything possible to reduce its costs and has borrowed €450 million. Its shareholders, who contributed €220 million, can not do more, according to Damas.
However, the company suffers from being perceived as a French company in the UK, and a British company in France, as it is based in London, he added, which is why it has not been entitled to direct aid or state-guaranteed loans.
Eurostar is asking for access to the same guaranteed loans as airlines, and wants a temporary reduction on the tolls paid to run its trains.
Additionally, as Eurostar “suffers more than the airlines” because of the “accumulation of health rules defined by the different countries” it serves, the company also hopes for coordination of health restriction between the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The Brussels Times