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As lockdown restrictions ease and we start to consider travelling again, the future of cross-Channel operator Eurostar remains uncertain.
Eurostar is seeking financial support from the UK Government, citing higher access charges here as a reason.
The French Government has pledged to provide support for the operator, while £200 million has been provided by one of its shareholders, Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec (CDPQ) and Hermes Infrastructure.
Registered in the UK and supporting 3,000 jobs either with the business or in the supply chain, the company is, however, 55% owned by SNCF (French state rail), 40% by CDPQ/Hermes and 5% by SNCB (Belgian state railways).
So: Should the UK Government provide financial assistance to Eurostar?

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“Historic opportunity” driven by a shift in travel patterns

“When the railway succeeds, Britain succeeds,” Rail Delivery Group Director General Andy Bagnall told the National Rail Recovery Conference.

Discussing ways in which the industry could recover post-pandemic, and how the UK’s economy relies on rail, he said: “This is the railway’s historic opportunity. It’s true that only 11% of the population regularly use rail, but 100% of the population benefits from the economic impact it makes. When Britain booms, the railway booms too.”

Bagnall spoke of research commissioned by the RDG and conducted by teams from the Transport Strategy Centre at Imperial College London after the first lockdown last year, which predicted rail passenger numbers could recover by 2025.

“The research suggested that is likely to be driven by leisure journeys, which could actually be up by as much as 8% by that date,” he said.

He told delegates that while the findings show that there is going to be a recovery, it is going to be neither quick nor easy.

“We can certainly predict that things are not going to be the same as they were before. People are not going to travel to the same places at the same times on the same days.”

He said this was already beginning to change, with Bagnall giving an eye-witness account of quieter Fridays on his own commute.

He highlighted further research showing the expected increase in working from home: “Prior to the pandemic, research showed the average rail commuter worked from home 0.5 days per week. Our research indicates that is now expected to be 2.6 days per week.”

And he said the new realities of work meant people will want to travel with greater flexibility: “The industry is going to have to consider how it will meet these changes - perhaps peak days with different timetables for Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We also want to spread demand through the day.”

Rail freight was highlighted as a success story, with Bagnall revealing that one-third of Tesco’s Christmas products were delivered by rail - including 80,000 Christmas trees and eight million bottles of wine.

  • Full coverage of the National Rail Recovery Conference will appear in RAIL 926, on sale digitally March 6 and in print on March 10. You can still register to watch any of the NRRC sessions on-demand within the next three months, by going to www.nationalrailconference.com

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