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Eurostar fights for survival as COVID-19 withers UK-EU link

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
A picture shows the departure of the first ride of railway company Eurostar from Brussels to London, after the Brexit withdrawel agreement, on January 1, 2021 at the Brussel-Zuid - Bruxelles-Midi - Brussels-South train station. (Photo by JASPER JACOBS / Belga / AFP) / Belgium OUT (Photo by JASPER JACOBS/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)
Eurostar was snubbed by the Treasury in November when it announced subsidies to major airports of up to £8m each. Photo: Jasper Jacobs / Belga / AFP via Getty Images

Eurostar has been left fighting for survival as the company warns its in a “very critical” state and on track for financial ruin.

The train operator which runs services through the Channel Tunnel has been impacted by the collapse in travel between the UK and European countries due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently it is running just one train in each direction between London and Paris. It operated more than 50 daily services before pre-pandemic, and two trains an hour during peak times.

Christophe Fanichet, a senior executive from France's state-owned railway firm The Societe Nationale Des Chemins De Fer Francais (SNCF), which is the majority shareholder of Eurostar, said the company “is in a critical state, I'd even say very critical."

According to Fanichet, Eurostar's passenger numbers plummeted 95% since March 2020 from the previous year, He said that the group was now "on a drip" in need of extra cash to prevent it from going under.

"Given the passenger numbers, it's a group that has been hit more than airlines," he said.

A spokesperson for Eurostar said: “Without additional funding from the government, there is a real risk to the survival of Eurostar. as the current situation is very serious.”

The government has said that it has been engaging extensively with Eurostar on a regular basis.” We will continue to work closely with them as we support the safe restart and recovery of international travel,” a government spokesman said.

READ MORE: Government pledges airport support scheme following travel corridor curbs

In 2015, Britain sold its stake in the operator to France for £750m. The French government has pumped €200m (£178m) into Eurostar to keep it afloat during the crisis.

Eurostar was snubbed by the Treasury in November when it announced subsidies to major airports of up to £8m each.

At the time the train operator said: “The new scheme of rates relief for airports puts Eurostar at a direct disadvantage against its airline competitors.

“Eurostar has been left fighting for its survival against a 95% drop in demand, whilst aviation has received over £1.8bn in support through loans, tax deferrals and financing.”

The company which was founded in 1994, has been credited with reducing carbon emission. Since it started the services, air travel between London and Paris has more than halved.

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It comes after a report from Heathrow airport last week that its passenger numbers slumped 73% during 2020.

For December alone, passenger numbers at Heathrow plummeted 83% as fear about the new strain of COVID-19 meant countries shut their borders to the UK. Alongside this, millions of people were forced to cancel Christmas travel.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit all forms of public transport systems and the global travel industries.

On Thursday, in another blow France announced that travellers from the UK will need to quarantine for seven-days and take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at the end of the isolation period.

The UK has also tightened its travel measures. Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Friday that from 4am on Monday, arrivals to the UK from all destinations will be required to quarantine in an effort to reduce the spread of any new variants of COVID-19.

This means that all travel corridors — which were in place to allow arrivals from some nations to forgo quarantine — will be closed. Under the new travel corridor rules, people will also be required to show proof of a negative test taken in the previous 72 hours before travelling.