Eurostar has secured a £250 million ($354 million) rescue package after warning it was “fighting for its survival” due to the coronavirus crisis.
The cross-Channel rail operator said it has reached a financing agreement with its shareholders and banks.
This includes French state rail company SNCF, which is the company’s majority shareholder.
The UK sold its Eurostar stake to private companies for £757 million ($1,074 million) in 2015, and the Government resisted pressure to contribute to the bailout.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs in February that the Government was “very keen for Eurostar to survive” but insisted “it’s not our company” and its difficulties were “the shareholders’ problem to resolve.”
Following the announcement of the rescue deal, chief executive Jacques Damas said: “Everyone at Eurostar is encouraged by this strong show of support from our shareholders and banks which will allow us to continue to provide this important service for passengers.
“The refinancing agreement is the key factor enabling us to increase our services as the situation with the pandemic starts to improve.
“Eurostar will continue to work closely with governments to move towards a safe easing of travel restrictions and streamlining of border processes to allow passengers to travel safely and seamlessly.
“Their co-ordinated actions and decisions are crucial to the restoring of demand and the financial recovery of our business.”
The package consists of £150 million ($212 million) of loans guaranteed by shareholders, £50 million ($70 million) of additional equity from shareholders, and the restructuring of £50 million ($70 million) of existing loan facilities.
In November 2020, Eurostar claimed it “has been left fighting for its survival against a 95 percent drop in demand.”
It called on the UK Government to provide further support as it claimed a taxpayer-funded scheme to cover up to £8 million ($11 million) of business rates at each major English airport put it “at a direct disadvantage against its airline competitors.”
On Tuesday, the firm said in a statement it has “experienced a more severe decline in demand … than any other European train operator or competitor airline” during the pandemic.
It has been operating just one daily train in each direction between London and Paris, and between London and Amsterdam via Brussels, for several months.
Before the virus crisis, its daily timetable consisted of 56 trains.
The firm announced it will increase the number of trains on the London-Paris route to two daily return services from May 27, with a third added from the end of June.
Frequencies will gradually increase over the summer as travel restrictions are eased, the firm said.
It pledged to focus on increasing passenger numbers on its core routes between London, Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, and “maintaining rigorous cost control” to ensure loans can be repaid.
By Neil Lancefield