Eurostar bosses are warning that the company is “fighting for survival” as coronavirus travel restrictions trigger a 95% drop in demand from pre-Covid levels.
Passenger numbers on the cross-Channel train service have been down since March and are now “believed to be less than 1%” of the levels prior to the pandemic, following the recent tightening of coronavirus rules in countries across Europe, The Guardian reports.
The dearth of passengers has seen the number of services running each day drop from 50 before the pandemic to just “a single train per day going each way between London and Paris, and one in either direction between London and Brussels”, adds Sky News.
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Eurostar chief executive Jacques Damas has now written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak asking for financial help after the UK government announced on Tuesday that the country’s struggling airports will each receive business rates relief of up to £8m.
In a statement, 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.
“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.”
‘Key to our future connectivity’
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Cash has also called for the government to step in immediately to give “lifeline financial support for the important international infrastructure role fulfilled by Eurostar and the thousands of jobs supported both directly and indirectly by the service”.
That plea has been echoed by Anthony Berkeley, vice president of Allrail. In an article in City A.M., Berkeley writes: “As the end of the EU transition period looms, the UK must be able to showcase the strength of its post-Brexit trading role, whatever the outcome of negotiations. Our connectivity with Europe, even as a standalone nation, is crucial to demonstrating this.
“Recent news of vaccines gives us all a glimmer of hope that life as we know it will resume soon. When it does, we need to make sure our international high-speed rail businesses are in a strong position to respond and meet demand. That means fighting to safeguard cross-Channel rail - our green gateway to Europe, and the key to our future connectivity in a post-Brexit world.”
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