Why we can't mothball Eurostar
Eurostar has established itself as the most carbon efficient travel option for travel to Europe and when, as expected, targets come in to reduce our global carbon emissions and help us to meet our climate change commitments it will be the most cost-effective option too and help us take planes out of the skies for leisure and business travel.
In this decisive decade the independent Climate Change Committee report accepted by the government says low-carbon investment must scale up to £50bn a year in the UK. We can’t do that if we lose Eurostar as our green link to the rest of Europe.
In 2019, Eurostar carried over 11million passengers, providing over 80% of journeys between London and each of Paris and Brussels. And it is a link to good quality, city centre to city centre, high speed rail travel far beyond.This means 80% lower emissions per route than flying, saving 60,000 short-haul flights each year. Replacing Eurostar with airlines would add 580,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum, just ahead of the UK hosting the COP.
The British government is playing a game of chicken with Eurostar, trying to wash their hands of responsibility. They claim that because the company is 55% owned by the French state, primary responsibility for rescue rests in Paris.
Eurostar is a UK based company. 70% of its workforce is here – over 1,000 jobs are direct employees and a further 2,000 rely indirectly on the company. The depot and principal station are in the UK. Business and leisure travel contributes £2bn per annum to the UK economy. The UK has benefited from nearly £3bn in privatisation receipts from HS1 and Eurostar since 2010 and yet, so far, the UK government have not offered any financial assistance beyond access to the furlough scheme.
The government have offered generous bailouts to aviation. Even by June last year British Airways, EasyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair have taken £1.8bn from the Covid relief scheme. Eurostar is asking for guaranteed loans that would protect the routes to France, Belgium and beyond as well as our members jobs.
We can’t afford to let this collapse. Our members are specialists in their field, if they go elsewhere we may never get them back and in the current rail industry skills shortage there is no one in the wings ready to pick up the pieces.
Eurostar clearly could not be replaced overnight if it was allowed to fail.It could take up to 18 months to get a new operator up and running again.
We should celebrate our international rail link to Europe and fight to keep it, not just for our members or for holidays to European cities, but for the sake of the environment too.