A climate charity and a transport union are calling out the UK government on its lack of support for Eurostar, which is struggling to stay afloat after passenger numbers dropped by 95% since March 2020.
London-based climate charity Possible and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) are criticizing the Government for its continued support to airlines throughout the pandemic, contrasting with its lack of support for Eurostar’s climate-friendly alternative to air travel.
Eurostar is currently running two services a day, compared to its usual 50, one return trip to Paris, and one to Brussels.
Neither service is running at full capacity, meaning the company has taken a significant financial hit this year.
Passenger numbers in 2019 were 11.1 million but dropped to approximately 555,000 after March 2020.
However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps at the beginning of February said Eurostar “is not our company to rescue”, though he added a disclaimer that the Government would wait and see what the plan from the French state rail firm (SNCF) was.
The French government has a majority 55% stake in Eurostar, and Belgium a 5% stake after the UK government sold its share in 2015.
Climate charity Possible launched a campaign this month to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the Eurostar as a way of travelling without damaging the climate.
Possible is running a tool for individuals to write to Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, urging him to support government funding of the Eurostar.
Alethea Warrington, a campaigner at Possible said: “People need to be able to travel without contributing to climate-crashing emissions, and that means keeping the option to choose trains over planes.
“It’s unacceptable for the UK government, which channelled billions in state support to airlines, to stand back and refuse to chip in as Covid pushes Eurostar to breaking point.
“Protecting our only international train service is essential to get the UK on track as a leader for this year’s UN climate talks.”
Warrington added the Government should consider regaining its equity stake in exchange for supporting Eurostar, as a way for it to stand up for low carbon infrastructure to keep to its promise of being a climate leader.
One trip on the Eurostar from London to Paris generates about 16 times less emissions that a flight would. One London to Paris journey on the train produces 4kgCO2(e) compared to 64kgCO2(e) on a plane.
The British government has been providing support for airports and airlines throughout the pandemic.
It launched a multimillion-pound support scheme for airports on 29 January 2021, making airport and ground handlers in England eligible to receive loans of up to £8 million each.
The scheme is said to “reflect the sector’s valuable contribution to the UK economy”, but the UK Export Finance scheme does not involve any requirement on airlines to cut down on emissions in exchange for support.
Additionally, climate charity Possible pointed out that the British government is not only funding British-owned airlines, shedding light on the fact that the lack of funding for the Eurostar is not just a Brexit issue.
The parent company of British Airways, the Spanish International Airlines Group received £2 billion worth of loans from the Government under the UK Export Finance Scheme.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) also launched a SAVE EUROSTAR campaign on 9 February 2021 directed at Grant Shapps.
The petition states: “The Eurostar provides a vital, low carbon, link between the UK and mainland Europe, and will be essential to the UK’s green economic recovery from Covid-19.”
RMT is arguing that although Eurostar is part-owned by French state rail company SNCF, and has received over £200 million in support from shareholders, the UK government should offer its support as it is a UK registered company with a head office in London that supports over 3,000 UK jobs.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cas said: “Nobody should be under any doubt that the future of Eurostar, and the thousands of jobs that it supports, is threatened by the current stand-off.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We recognise the significant financial challenges facing Eurostar as a result of Covid-19 and the unprecedented circumstances currently faced by the international travel industry.
“Eurostar provides major benefits for UK citizens and businesses and is an environmentally friendly link to our European neighbours.
“We will continue to work closely with them as we support the safe restart and recovery of international travel.”