QUITE A JOURNEY
Business Traveller UK|November 2020 - January 2021
It has been an unprecedented time for the rail industry, both in the UK and across Europe. Here we look over the year’s developments.
ALEX MCWHIRTER

In many ways, the most significant news of the past year came from Eurostar, the high-speed trains of which link London with Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Since its launch in 1994, Eurostar has gone it alone as an international operator but in 2021 it will join forces with Franco-Belgian company Thalys.

Both Eurostar and Thalys are majority-owned by France’s SNCF, so one hopes that this merger will mean improved ticketing and connections for customers. When fully developed, it will mean easier onward links from Brussels to the Netherlands and Germany.

Still, this good news is overshadowed by the traffic decline that both operators are experiencing owing to Covid-19. Of the two operators, Thalys is the more bullish. At the time of going to press it had restored more services than Eurostar, while Eurostar was restricted to a sparse timetable, in November scheduling two to three services per day to Paris, two services to Brussels and one to Amsterdam. This contrasts with the good times, pre-Covid, when Eurostar would be operating more than 20 services daily, including trains to Marseilles and Disneyland Paris as well as the Netherlands. Eurostar says that it does not intend to serve its two Kent stations, Ashford and Ebbsfleet, or operate its seasonal route to the South of France until 2022.

Readers may feel that Eurostar has thrown in the towel too hastily, but the UK’s quarantine restrictions have affected it badly. The company says: “Covid-19 has had a severe impact on the travel industry and on our business and we continue to operate in very challenging conditions. We have experienced an unprecedented fall in demand with booking down 90 per cent compared with last year [2019]. Given the uncertain outlook, it is crucial that we adapt and take action to reduce our costs so that we can protect our business for the future.” It does not help that all of its destinations in mainland Europe are, at the time of writing, subject to UK quarantine.

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