Pressure is mounting on the UK and French governments to agree financial aid for Eurostar, the cross-Channel rail operator, as it fights for survival.
The company admitted late last year that the continuing COVID-19 crisis, which has forced it to slash services from a normal level of more than 50 trains a day to just four, had taken a 95% toll on its revenues.
It appealed at the time for UK government aid, arguing that it was being treated unfairly as airports had secured tax relief to help them cope with the collapse in demand for overseas travel.
Eurostar is majority-owned by the French state rail firm SNCF – potentially leaving the French taxpayer most exposed to its needs for aid.
The lifeline issue is complicated by the fact that the UK government sold its stake to an Anglo-Canadian consortium in 2015.
A campaign for financial aid gathered pace in the UK this week when a letter, backed by businesses, was sent to the Treasury and Department for Transport (DfT) urging them not to threaten the UK’s economic recovery and post-Brexit future by letting Eurostar “fall between the cracks of support”.
Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, added his voice to their effort on Wednesday when he argued the cross-Channel train operator plays a vital role in enabling low-carbon international travel.
He said: “We simply cannot afford to lose Eurostar to this pandemic. The company contributes £800m each year to the UK economy.”
Mr Merriman urged both the UK and French governments to act.
The DfT has said it has been in “engaging extensively with Eurostar on a regular basis”.
A French transport economist, Professor Yves Crozet, told the committee: “I suppose that the French government will support Eurostar, but not alone.
“We will have probably an arm wrestling between the UK and France about that.
“But clearly Eurostar is a subsidiary of SNCF, and SNCF has the majority of the capital. So clearly the money will come from France in a very important part but maybe France will ask the UK to give also some hand to the system.”