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Transport Committee Chair calls on UK and French governments to set out joint commitment to supporting Eurostar

20 January 2021

Huw Merriman MP is calling on the UK and French Governments to set out their commitment to supporting Eurostar.

Concern has been growing over the future of Eurostar following plunging passenger numbers due to the impact of the pandemic and Brexit.

Huw Merriman MP, Chair of the Transport Committee said:

"We simply cannot afford to lose Eurostar to this pandemic. The company contributes £800 million each year to the UK economy. It is unique in offering an environmentally friendly, direct, connection to mainland Europe. Trips from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam on the Eurostar emit between 80-90 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger than the equivalent short-haul flights.

Like airlines, quarantine and travel restrictions have blighted Eurostar’s access to its markets during the pandemic. Unlike airlines, Eurostar has been shut out from government loans that have offered a lifeline.

Eurostar’s traffic has fallen by over 95 per cent; services have been stripped back to a bare minimum. It needs a joint, bespoke UK-French solution to help it through this crisis."

The issue of the company’s survival was raised in this morning’s evidence session with transport officials and experts from France, Singapore and Sweden about the challenges facing their respective transport systems as part of its inquiry on Reforming public transport after the pandemic.

This morning evidence session

Eurostar was referenced in this morning’s evidence session, available here. A transcription is available below as a rough guide - the full Hansard transcript will be available in 48 hours, as per usual.

Mr Yves Crozet is an Emeritus Professor at the Institute of Political Studies, University of Lyon Urban Planning Transport Economics Laboratory (LAET) and has more recently, has worked on the effects of the pandemic on all modes of transport. He does not represent the views of the French Government.

10.30.18: Question to Mr Crozet

You touched on Eurostar – Eurostar is not just a means of connectivity between France and the UK, it’s also quite a symbolic example of our modern partnership. There is a perception in this country that the French will bail Eurostar out. Can you perhaps give us your view from the other side of the Channel, as to what support the French Government is going to give to Eurostar?

10.30.45:  Mr Yves Crozet

I don’t know … so clearly it is not possible to stop Eurostar supply – we need Eurostar and it’s why … I mentioned before that the main issue of the rail system is that it is becoming more and more heavily subsidised system. And maybe … even the high speed rail is transforming into a non-commercial good. If you want to keep Eurostar today, you have to give a lot of public subsidies. Even it is strange, we will subsidise that, exactly as we subsidise in France, some local air traffic relation between small cities and Paris. I think that the main consequence, as an economist, I think that the main consequence of the pandemic is that the sectors needing public money to survive will be more and more important – we have, for example, restaurants, we have the Eurostar, we have hotels and so on. It is exactly the same consequence as what we have after a war.

10.32.14: Huw Merriman

Perhaps if I can just interrupt, just keeping it on Eurostar … if I can be quite specific. So Eurostar’s numbers, I think , have dropped to about one percent of normal. There is just one service returning from Paris to London. Eurostar have been unable to tap into any Bank of England financing. Our aviation industry has been decimated but even the airlines have been able to get funding. Can you give us the view from France – is it just the feeling that ok,  because Eurostar is 55 per cent owned indirectly by the French Government, the French Government will stand by? Or are we being too laid back in the UK and we need to give some financial support from London?

10.33.01: Mr Crozet

I suppose that the French Government will support Eurostar, but not alone. We will have probably an arm wrestling between the UK and France about that. But clearly Eurostar is a subsidiary of SNCF and SNCF has the majority of the capital. So clearly the money will come from France in a very important part but maybe France will ask UK to give also some hand to the system.

Further information

Image: CCO