SHARE
COPY LINK

TRAVEL NEWS

How Brexit and Covid have derailed Eurostar services between France and UK

The French boss of Eurostar has laid out how the combination of the pandemic, Brexit and ongoing uncertainty over new EU travel rules have left the company in a very precarious position.

How Brexit and Covid have derailed Eurostar services between France and UK
Eurostar has been badly hit by Covid and Brexit. Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP

The Eurostar CEO Jacques Damas has laid out the company’s woes in a long letter to British MPs, stating that as things stand “Eurostar cannot currently pursue a strategy of volume and growth. We are having to focus on our core routes . . . and to charge higher prices to customers”.

He said that two things have significantly damaged the company – the pandemic (worsened by the fact that the company received no state aid from the UK government) and Brexit which has made travel between France and the UK considerably more complicated with more checks required at stations.

(You can listen to The Local France team discuss the future of Eurostar in our new podcast episode below. Just press play or download it here for later.)

Damas said that peak capacity at both London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord is 30 percent less than it was pre-Brexit, because of the increased infrastructure needed to check and stamp the passports of travellers.

He said: “Even with all booths manned, St Pancras can only process a maximum of 1,500 passengers per hour, against 2,200 in 2019.

“It is only the fact that Eurostar has capacity-limited trains and significantly reduced its timetable from 2019 levels, that we are not seeing daily queues in the centre of London similar to those experienced in the Channel ports.

“This situation has obvious commercial consequences and is not sustainable in the mid to long-term.”

He added that the increased passport checks and stamping needed since Brexit adds at least 15 seconds to each passenger’s processing time, and that automated passport gates are less efficient.

The other factor that has hit the company hard was the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, leading to revenues being cut by 95 percent for 15 months.

The London-based company struggled to access government financial aid due to its ownership structure, with both the British and French governments reluctant to assume sole responsibility for bailing out the company.

It began as a joint venture between the British and French governments, but then the British sold off its share to private investors.

Damas said: “Contrary to the £7 billion in state aid given to our airline competitors, Eurostar did not receive any state-backed loans”. 

By May 2021 the company was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and was eventually bailed out to the tune of €290 million in loans and shareholder-guaranteed loans and equity – although this saved the company it has now left it with huge debts to be repaid.

The CEO’s letter was responding to questions from British MPs on the Transport Select Committee who wanted to know when trains would again stop at Ashford station – which has been closed since March 2020. Damas said there was no immediate prospect of that, or of reinstating the route to Disneyland Paris, while the company grapples with these financial problems.

He added that there is also “considerable uncertainty” around the new EU travel systems known as the EES and ETIAS, which are due to come into effect in 2023 and which will require extra checking of passports at the EU’s external borders – such as the UK/France border. 

READ ALSO Fears of ‘massive travel disruption’ in 2023

Many Eurostar passengers have commented recently on increased ticket prices, and it seems that there is little immediate prospect of prices going back down to 2019 levels. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

PARIS

‘Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets’ – French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Police in the capital are planning a massive operation to clean up Paris' chaotic and grotty Gare du Nord station - described by the local police commander as "full of drunks, crack dealers and pickpockets".

'Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets' - French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Gare du Nord serves not only as one of the major rail hubs for the capital, but also the arrival point for the Eurostar and shuttles from Paris’ two main airports – meaning that it is often the first part of the city that tourists see.

And it doesn’t give a good impression – the station is dark, confusingly laid out and its infrastructure is crumbling, so it’s far from uncommon to see buckets placed to catch water from the leaking rook.

But it’s the security aspect that worries the police – as the station has also become a hotspot for pickpockets, unlicensed taxi drivers, illegal street vendors and drug dealers, as well as a hangout for homeless people, many of whom have mental health problems.

Although the biggest security problem is undoubtedly pickpocketing – especially of confused, newly arrived tourists – there are occasionally more serious incidents, such as the attack on January 11th when a man randomly assaulted seven members of the public with a sharpened chisel.

A year previously, another knife-wielding man, later revealed to be homeless and with mental health problems who frequented the station, was shot by police.

Police presence in the station has now been massively stepped up, with dozens of officers patrolling at all hours of the day and night, in addition to the soldiers from Operation Sentinelle who make regular patrols of Gare du Nord (and other sites that have the potential to be terror attack targets).

The commander of the unit based at Gare du Nord told Le Parisien: “Unlicensed cigarette sellers, crack cocaine dealers, pickpocketing, drunk people – these are all problems that characterise Gare du Nord.

However, she added that things have improved in recent years, saying: “There is no longer a war between rival gangs, who used to come here regularly to fight in front of the [now-defunct] Foot Locker store. Many new stores have moved in. The light is soothing. It’s not an anxiety-provoking place at all.”

The station – through which 700,000 people pass every day – has long been a sore point for city authorities, who are well aware of the poor impression it gives to new arrivals.

However in 2021, an ambitious plan to completely redevelop it and add a huge new shopping mall was rejected. Instead, it was decided to simply give the existing station a revamp in time for the 2024 Olympics. 

SHOW COMMENTS