Published: 09:38, 18 May 2021
| Updated: 15:24, 19 May 2021
The future of continental high-speed rail company Eurostar appears to have been secured after it clinched a £250million rescue package.
The firm had seen traffic numbers plunge by 95% during the pandemic due to travel restrictions.
It prompted it to warn it was "fighting for its survival" as its timetable was slashed to just two services a day.
The cross-Channel rail operator said it has reached a financing agreement with its shareholders and banks. This includes French state rail company SNCF, which is the company’s majority shareholder.
The UK sold its Eurostar stake to private companies for £757 million in 2015, and the government resisted pressure to contribute to the bailout.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs in February the government was “very keen for Eurostar to survive” but insisted “it’s not our company” and its difficulties were “the shareholders’ problem to resolve”.
Following the announcement of the rescue deal, chief executive Jacques Damas said: “Everyone at Eurostar is encouraged by this strong show of support from our shareholders and banks which will allow us to continue to provide this important service for passengers.
“The refinancing agreement is the key factor enabling us to increase our services as the situation with the pandemic starts to improve.
“Eurostar will continue to work closely with governments to move towards a safe easing of travel restrictions and streamlining of border processes to allow passengers to travel safely and seamlessly.
“Their co-ordinated actions and decisions are crucial to the restoring of demand and the financial recovery of our business.”
Unions representing Eurostar staff have given a cautious welcome to a £250m rescue package but have urged the government to do more to secure the long-term future of the firm.
"The majority of Eurostar jobs are British jobs and many more rely on this vital service.”
And the Ashford MP Damian Green says he wants assurances that the deal will involve services once again stopping at Ashford.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, which represents employees on Eurostar including drivers, said the British government needed to “step up” and do its bit to help.
He said: “We welcome this news because we have been saying for many months that Eurostar is far too important to fail. The majority of Eurostar jobs are British jobs and many more rely on this vital service.”
“This is not the end of the story. Now is the time for the British government to step up and stop sitting on its hands by claiming Eurostar is someone else's problem - as they have been doing for far too long.”
“Of course, the very best way of doing this would be to bring our country’s share of Eurostar back into public ownership – where it belongs.”
Meanwhile Mr Green said the deal was a move in the right direction but he wanted more assurances about the long term and services stopping at Ashford.
“It is good news but not great news. What would be great news would be if they say that Ashford services would start on a particular date.
"Eurostar is committed to running services from Ashford and Ebbsfleet and I would rather deal with them than some new operator who would come in with new terms and conditions.”