French authorities have said they are ready to give financial support to the struggling Eurostar.
The country’s junior transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, told a parliamentary hearing in Paris he was talking with the UK government about ensuring the cross-Channel train operator survives the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the French state would be “at Eurostar’s side in order to maintain this strategic link between our two countries”.
Support will be given “based on our involvement in Eurostar, so that we can financially sustain its business model”, he added.
Eurostar is 55% owned by French state rail company SNCF and the UK government sold its 40% stake to private companies in 2015.
The train operator has suffered from COVID-19 restrictions and a fall in demand for travel, much like the aviation sector, yet its plight has not gained as much attention.
The number of passengers has fallen by 95% and it now runs just one daily train in each direction between London and Paris, and between London and Amsterdam via Brussels.
Before the pandemic its fleet of 27 trains ran more than 50 daily services.
In November Eurostar said it was “fighting for its survival” as it called for assistance similar to that given to airlines to help weather the coronavirus storm.
It said at the time: “Eurostar has been left fighting for its survival against a 95% drop in demand, whilst aviation has received over £1.8 billion in support through loans, tax deferrals and financing.
“We would ask this scheme to be extended to include international rail services, and more generally for the government to incorporate high-speed rail in its support for the travel sector, and in doing so help protect the green gateway to Europe.”
On Wednesday, Commons Transport Select Committee chairman and Tory MP Huw Merriman urged the UK and French governments to support the business, adding: “We simply cannot afford to lose Eurostar (as it is) unique in offering an environmentally friendly, direct connection to mainland Europe”.
The Department for Transport has said it has been in “engaging extensively with Eurostar on a regular basis”.
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