UK quarantine: Eurostar cuts services by 80%
Train company Eurostar has been severely affected by the UK-France quarantine, the majority-French owned firm has said, with fewer than 20% of usual London-Europe services running and “almost no passengers”.
Eurostar runs high-speed train services between London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, via the Channel Tunnel.
Since the “surprise” quarantine imposed by the UK on arrivals from France on August 15, its traffic has been “almost paralysed”, with services reduced to less than 20% of usual traffic, and a noticeable reduction in passengers.
Eurostar is 55% owned by French train company SNCF, but headquartered in London.
The company confirmed that it had been forced to restructure its debt in response to the crisis, and had been unable to ask for financial support from the British government due to the majority of its shareholders not being based in the UK.
Because of this, the company was obliged to ask for help from banks, which have supported the company on the condition of a “reasonable” business plan predicted for 2021, a source told newspaper Le Monde.
A source said: “The discussions have finished and the risk of going into liquidation is behind us.”
Yet, the company expects to post no profit, or even a loss, this year - profits were around €100 million in 2019.
‘No-one on the trains’
Philippe Mouly, director at Eurostar, said: “At the moment, we have reduced the number of trains and we are generally operating three returns a day between Paris and London, and two returns between Brussels/Amsterdam and London.”
This compares to pre-epidemic numbers, which saw around 20 Paris-London services per day, and a dozen between Brussels and Amsterdam.
One manager said: “There is no-one on the trains.”
Overall, the cross-Channel lines have been the worst affected by the Covid-19 crisis, Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs said, and were suffering even before the new quarantine rules were imposed.
A source close to SNCF was quoted by Le Monde as saying: “During confinement, from mid-March to mid-May, traffic was almost nothing, reduced to one return journey per day.
After confinement, this gently rose to eight returns between Paris and London.”
Yet, the services were hampered further as - in contrast to domestic French TGV services - Eurostar lines were still required to keep at least half of the seats empty to help comply with social distancing rules.
The financial difficulties comes as news broke on August 21 that the director general of Eurostar, Mike Cooper, would be leaving the company to join competitor Arriva, part of German transport company Deutsche Bahn.
Eurostar has already said that Mr Cooper’s successor will be announced on September 4.
Despite the difficulties this year, Eurostar has continued to maintain that its plans to merge with Franco-Belgian SNCF service Thalys - which operates TGV services between Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne - are still on course.
A high-profile manager told Le Monde: “It is more needed than ever. The epidemic crisis has shown exactly why it is better to not be dependent on one single connection.”