For 27 years the Channel Tunnel’s been the only physical thread connecting the UK with the rest of Europe, but now the Eurostar passenger train service that runs on it is reeling and may come off the rails entirely unless someone steps in and bails it out.
The French government has been the majority owner of the Eurostar train set since the UK sold off its 40% stake for £757m back in 2015.
In recent weeks calls have come in to ask the UK government to help bail it out.
So far, the UK is saying it doesn’t have any right to step in and help, which is short-sighted and sad. Eurostar brings millions to the UK every year in normal times, and those visitors spend millions while here, therefore bolstering our economic coffers.
Of course, these are deeply uncertain and precarious times. Money has never been tighter, due to the billions being forked out to help citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.
But this author believes the UK should step in and help. It should do so to keep the Eurostar dream alive and maintain the one physical thread holding us together in a post-Brexit world.
Bailout for equity should be possible
I also believe that the UK should get something in return, and by that I mean a return to part-ownership in the form of some equity. It IS in our national interest. Eurostar was built on the dream of a better future where we all easily move back and forth visiting each other’s lands and experiencing their cultures.
It is also because, let’s be honest, the French may be great at running trains, but it’s not so hot when it comes to customer service. The Eurostar frequent traveller programme is a prime example. For decades it was a well regarded and sought after thing to achieve Carte Blanche status in the train service’s frequent traveller tiers.
I worked hard to earn my Carte Blanche status, and managed to maintain it for about six years until Eurostar, under its sole French ownership, decided to make it much, much more difficult to earn enough points to remain ‘in the club lounge’ so to speak.
An expat commuter like myself used to have to earn 1,800 points to be assured of continuing in the same tier. In 2019 that suddenly shot up to 2,400 points and earning those points got harder.
Also, I used to commute from London the SW France, which meant changing to a TGV in Paris. In the glory days, my first class TGV ticket would allow me use of the SNCF lounges, but this also suddenly stopped. I really began to feel like a second class citizen with a first class ticket, under the French system.
The Anglo-European story
I can’t help but think that if the UK was to deal itself back in to this unique train service, it would pay dividends at an important time in the Anglo-European story. It would surely do something to soften the currently frosty relations between Britain and Europe?
Eurostar is running out of time. Transport minister Grant Shapps may not think it’s the UK’s place to help, but thousands of UK jobs would be immediately at risk if Eurostar did collapse.
Of course, I do have a strong personal connection to Eurostar. I went to the inauguration of the Channel Tunnel back in 1994. Pandemic aside, I’m a regular user of this service and I also happened to write most of my books on this train. The first one, Changing Trains, even features a ‘fictional’ Eurostar heading to Bordeaux with a stop in Poitiers as the backdrop to the travel story within a travel story.
But, it would be a symbolic catastrophe for us all if Eurostar was allowed to hit the buffers just months after the UK’s political connections to Europe were severed. Let’s all hope the UK Government and France can work out a deal before Eurostar comes to the end of the line.