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Eurostar-Thalys merger promises fast green EU railway

30million passengers a year forecast for planned high-speed super-rail service

A planned merger between Eurostar and Thalys could see a Europe-wide super rail service boasting 30million passengers a year by 2030.

France’s state rail firm SNCF has majority stakes in both companies, which currently carry 18.5million people a year.

Bringing the two together would see high-speed routes between France, the UK, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands being run by the same company.

Passengers would be able to buy one ticket to reach all destinations but would still have to change between Eurostar and Thalys trains.

Thalys has services between Paris, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and the firms share international platforms at Paris Gare du Nord.

Technical differences mean that Thalys trains cannot run on British tracks, nor Eurostar ones on German lines.

SNCF owns 55% of Eurostar and 60% of Thalys.

The merger would also see the yellow and blue Eurostar trains and the burgundy Thalys livery getting a greenwash.

SNCF claims the environment will benefit from the project, called Greenspeed, by making rail travel more attractive than road and air options and because renewable energy would be used for traction.Head of SNCF Guillaume Pepy said: “This would deliver a compelling alternative to road and air travel and would herald a new era in the development of European rail services.”

The merger might fall foul of the European Commission’s long-standing policy of promoting competition on Europe’s rail networks.

However, if SNCF decides the merger will involve Eurostar and Thalys and not the finances of SNCF as a whole, EU notification might not be necessary for financial parts of the deal, as the smaller units have combined revenues below guidelines.

The move has been criticised by anonymous union sources, who told Le Monde newspaper that they feared its main motivation is to cut jobs.

Mr Pepy claimed the new company would be hiring, thanks to a projected 60% growth in passengers expected within six years.

British interest in Eurostar is limited, with SNCF having a majority stake, and the rest divided between Belgium’s SNCB state-owned railway company and a holding comp-any called Patina Rail.

Eurostar has headquarters in London, has 1,650 workers, and it handles about 11million passengers a year.

Thalys, which has its headquarters in Brussels, has 641 workers and about 7.5 million passengers.

The name of the new comp-any, its branding, headquarters location and division of capital are yet to be decided.

No timetable for the merger has been given, but Mr Pepy said he hoped it would be completed “in one year, a year-and-a-half, or two years”.

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