Eurostar CRISIS: Expert urges UK to be tough with French on bailout – ‘Take their trains’ | UK | News (Reports)

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Eurostar is 55 percent owned by French state rail company SNCF and the UK Government sold its stake to private companies for £757 million six years ago. But the service has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic and currently operates just one daily train in each direction between London and Paris, and between London and Amsterdam via Brussels.

The company says is fighting for survival amid a 95 percent fall in passenger numbers and losses of millions of pounds a week.

French junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told a parliamentary hearing in Paris he was in talks with the UK counterparts about a joint bail-out.

Officials in London are concerned about propping up a foreign-owned business with British taxpayers’ money.

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But travel expert Mark Smith, who runs the Seat61.com website, said the UK should offer its financial support in return for a fleet of trains.

He said: “It would be extremely embarrassing for UK government if Eurostar collapsed.

“My plan, were I the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, is to provide all the support Eurostar needs to survive – but in exchange for half-a-dozen e300 train sets.”

He said the 11 e300s trains originally built for Eurostar did not offer the premium standard of the newer e320s but had been refurbished and upgraded and could be leased back to Eurostar when traffic returns or offered to a start-up operator.

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He told the Independent: “Faced with such a prospect, SNCF might stump up the funds, Eurostar survives, I win.

“Or if it’s really a matter of survival, they accept the deal, Eurostar survives, I get my money back and open up international rail to competition – so everyone’s a winner.”

READ MORE: Eurostar POLL: Should Britain buy struggling French rail giant?

SNCF chief executive Jean-Pierre Farandou told France Inter radio this week that “the situation is very critical for Eurostar”.

On Wednesday, Commons Transport Select Committee chairman and Tory MP Huw Merriman urged the UK and French governments to make a joint commitment to support Eurostar.

He told MPs: “We simply cannot afford to lose Eurostar to this pandemic.

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“The company contributes £800 million each year to the UK economy.

“It is unique in offering an environmentally friendly, direct, connection to mainland Europe.

“Trips from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam on the Eurostar emit between 80-90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger than the equivalent short-haul flights.”

Mr Djebbari insisted France was ready to give financial support to the struggling operator.

He said: “The French state will be at Eurostar’s side in order to maintain this strategic link between our two countries.

He said support will be given “based on our involvement in Eurostar, so that we can financially sustain its business model”.

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