Published: 17:47, 24 September 2020
| Updated: 15:55, 25 September 2020
Eurostar must receive government help to "bounce back" and protect 3,500 jobs in Kent, a railways boss has said.
HS1's chief executive, Dyan Crowther, who has worked in the rail industry for more than 30 years, has been pressing the Conservative administration for financial support for the international train operator amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Eurostar pumps around £340m into the Kent tourism economy and £2bn into the UK, but bosses have been forced to shut down services at Ebbsfleet and Ashford International until at least 2022 due to a huge drop in demand.
Ms Crowther, whose company works closely with the rail firm, said: "Eurostar has seen passenger numbers fall off a cliff almost overnight."
High-Speed 1 Ltd is an "infrastructure manager" which operates and maintains Ashford , Ebbsfleet , Stratford and London St Pancras international stations on the 68-mile route from England's capital to the Channel Tunnel. The firm sells train slots to Eurostar.
HS1 would normally be expected to hold up to 17,000 slots a year for Eurostar, but the number is likely to drop sharply to around 2,500 over a 12-month period due to stringent quarantine rules as a Covid vaccine is sought.
Three Kent MPs have secured an important meeting with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to discuss measures to protect Eurostar's future in the county.
Anxious Kent county councillors, whose authority used public funds to pay for infrastructure improvements at Ashford station, said two weeks ago that they feared the firm "may never stop again" in Kent.
HS1's chief executive said: "I hope Eurostar reopen their services at Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International, but they are going to need help to get the bounce back that they so desperately need.
"They can only run the services that they can currently afford. That's the reality of the situation."
She has called for a "tripartite" agreement to be reached by the government, HS1 and Eurostar.
Ms Crowther said: "We need some real and sustainable solutions for the long term, not just something for the next six months."
Eurostar has been described as a "unique" player in the travel industry, with the French and Belgian governments holding a 55% stake in the ownership. The remaining share was sold by the UK government to private businesses.
On May 6, 1994, the first Eurostar train left Waterloo station to travel to Calais where French President Francois Mitterand stood waiting, marking the opening of the Channel Tunnel.
More than 100 million people have used the high-speed rail since then, with the service moving to a new London home - St Pancras - 13 years ago.
Eurostar began operating from the £100m Ebbsfleet station in October 2007 while services to Brussels, Paris and Disneyland were also made accessible from Ashford .
The firm has continued to expand and Amsterdam was included as a destination last year while "ambitious" plans were in the works to launch a new service to Bordeaux with around 250,000 people expected to use this route.
Ms Crowther said: "Eurostar has been an incredibly successful and very resilient company when you consider some of the challenges it has faced.
"Terror attacks in almost every single city a Eurostar service goes to, strikes in Paris, yellow vest issues.
"Despite all of the difficulties, the business was still seeing 3% year-on-year growth."
After the meeting, Mr Green said: "The government must wake up to the perilous state of Eurostar and the devastating impact this suspension is having on businesses and families in the Kent region."
Mr Gale added: "A reduction in Eurostar services will mean a proportionate rise in the costs borne by domestic users of HS1 between Thanet and London."
The Department for Transport has been approached for comment.
Eurostar declined to comment.