Eurostar Near Collapse, Asks for Bailout, Becomes Hot Potato

Eurostar Near Collapse, Asks for Bailout, Becomes Hot Potato

Eurostar, the company that operates the cross-Channel train service that connects the UK with France, Belgium and the Netherlands, is on the brink of collapse, the company’s management warned this week. With passenger numbers down 95% in the final quarter of 2020 and revenues down over 80% over the course of 2020, it is now “on a drip” and in desperate need of extra cash, says Christophe Fanichet, a senior executive of France’s state SNCF railways, which is the majority shareholder of Eurostar. “I’m very worried about Eurostar. The company is in a critical state, I’d even say very critical,” he said.

In 2019, Eurostar shuttled 11 million passengers back and forth between the UK and Continental Europe — London St Pancras on one side, and Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam on the other. While generally more expensive than budget air fares, it is quicker, more comfortable, and drops off passengers in the center of their chosen city of destination.

But like the airlines, its whole business model has been upended by the virus crisis. At present, the company is operating only two services a day, a far cry from the two trains an hour it used to operate during peak times before the pandemic. And most of those trains are less than a quarter full. More than 90% of its workers have been furloughed.

It’s a similar story across Europe’s railway sector. Passenger numbers have plunged between 70%-90% as lockdowns, social-distancing rules, and concerns about the risks of using public transport have taken their toll. The industry is estimated to have racked up losses of €22 billion in 2020, according to CER, a Brussels-based commerce group representing passenger and freight prepare operators. That’s similar to the total losses accrued so far by Europe’s airlines. Thousands of workers are on government-subsidized furloughs.

“It’s a totally extraordinary situation,” said Libor Lochman, CER’s executive director. “There is no comparison for it, and it can and will lead to the bankruptcy of a number of companies, unless there is the political will to prevent it”…

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