Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Rail

Eurostar CEO Says Recovery Stymied by Brexit, Lack of Government Aid

4 months ago

As travel has surged back from the pandemic, issues that the industry faced prior to the precipitous drop in travel are coming home to roost. That’s the case at Eurostar, the high-speed passenger rail line that connects London to Europe under the English Channel.

The introduction of border controls post-Brexit at Eurostar’s London and Paris terminals have created bottlenecks that, given the current infrastructure, are limiting the railroad’s ability to fully capture the dramatic surge in travel demand, Eurostar Group CEO Jacques Damas told the chair of the UK Parliament’s Transport Committee in a letter Monday.

eurostar gare du nord paris
(Sean O’Neill/Skift)

Despite the installation of new e-gates and customs booths at London’s St. Pancras, station capacity is roughly 30 percent lower — or 1,500 people an hour versus 2,200 in 2019 — than it was before the pandemic, Damas claimed. “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 center of London,” he said.

The situation Eurostar faces is reminiscent of the struggles at U.S. airports when new security rules were implemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Many airports were forced to adopt less-than-ideal solutions to accommodate security needs in spaces designed for less intrusive checks. Redesigning airport terminals for these needs continues to this day. For one: Denver airport’s $1 billion over budget terminal project is focused of fixing the security queue problems that were created two decades ago.

Eurostar, which is owned by French rail company SNCF and merged with Belgian and Dutch high-speed rail operator Thalys earlier this year, was operating about 75 percent of its pre-pandemic trains in July. Corporate travel, which is a key part of the line’s business, was at 70 percent of 2019 levels. But these numbers lag many of Eurostar’s continental peers.

SNCF, which operates the French high-speed TGV rail network, reported earlier in September that corporate travel across its passenger trains stood at 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Demand for travel to some destinations this summer was 10 percent above 2019 levels. And, in the first half of 2022, revenues for SNCF’s intercity passenger rail division, SNCF Voyageurs, were down just 4 percent compared to three years ago.

Elsewhere on the continent, high-speed rail operators reported strong passenger numbers this summer. Ridership on Germany’s Deutsche Bahn was up compared to 2019, though it likely benefitted from the country’s 9 Euro Ticket offering for local and regional trains, while Spain’s Renfe recovered to 91 percent of three years ago.

For now, at least according to Eurostar CEO Damas, the railroad may have to operate fewer trains than it did in 2019 through at least 2025. That may mean the recent decision to suspend popular service to Disneyland Paris could be extended for several years. In addition to the Brexit-related border control rules, Eurostar’s finances struggled by the lack of state aid during the pandemic, and a shortage of maintenance staff, he said.

Rail

Eurostar to Suspend Disneyland Paris Trains

5 months ago

Britons will not be able to grab a direct train to Disneyland Paris next summer. High-speed rail operator Eurostar will suspend service between London and the theme park on the outskirts of Paris on June 5, 2023, it told travel agents Wednesday.

Eurostar, which is owned by French rail operator SNCF, said it needs to “focus on our core routes to stabilize our operations” for the decision to suspend trains the European outpost of the Magic Kingdom. The railroad also mentioned financial commitments, and new entry and exit requirements between the UK and EU.

In a bit of good news, Eurostar said it would “review” its operations for 2024, leaving open the door for a possible resumption of train service to Disneyland Paris.

(Joe JABRE/Flickr)

During the first six months of the year, Eurostar said business travel on its core London-Paris route had recovered to 70 percent of 2019 levels without providing exact numbers; it operated roughly 75 percent of its pre-pandemic schedule. SNCF Voyageurs, which includes Eurostar as well as SNCF’s other passenger train services, has reported a strong rebound in passenger numbers on its trains during the first half of the year, particularly from March.

SNCF received approval from European authorities to merge Eurostar and Thalys, which operates high-speed passenger trains in Belgium and the Netherlands, into the new Eurostar Group in March. The new company plans to grow ridership to 30 million people by 2030 from 19 million in 2019.

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