Eurostar has secured £ 250million (€ 289million) refinancing from its shareholders and banks to help it manage the impact of the Covid crisis. Rail service chief executive Jacques Damas said in a statement last week that the deal “is a major step towards securing Eurostar’s future.” The number of passengers on the cross-Channel train service fell 95% after the first lockdowns in March last year.
It then declined even further when national borders were closed again in the second wave of coronavirus in winter.
Eurostar’s annual revenues have grown from £ 1 billion (€ 1.1 billion) in 2019 to around £ 180 million (€ 208 million) in 2020.
It has already borrowed £ 400m (€ 450m) and received a cash injection of £ 170m (€ 197m) from its owners.
As the funding deal and the release of lockdowns sparked optimism for the company, an insider warned that the crisis may not be over yet.
A high profile source told The Telegraph this month: “Things are not over yet. We are far from being out of the woods.
“If it stays like this for another 12 months, we will go back.”
Eurostar will start stepping up its services on May 27 as the service hopes to start a post-pandemic recovery.
The UK government has so far refused to help Eurostar, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying earlier this year that the company “is not ours to save”.
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London School of Economics economist Professor Iain Begg told Express.co.uk last week that the UK had no “obligation” to help the business, but could have an “interest” in doing so if the pandemic triggers a new crisis for the service.
He said: “There are two aspects to this – the first is whether there is an obligation or an interest in supporting Eurostar.
“There is no obligation in the sense that it is a company owned by the French and Belgian railways as well as by a hedge fund in Canada, but it may be in the interest of the Great Britain because the British find the service desirable.
“The next question is if it is not saved, will something replace it or will there be some uncertainty? Will there be a lack of connectivity between the UK and the continent?”
“I think the danger is that there could be a lack of decision making which would make things very difficult.”
The UK sold its stake in Eurostar in 2015 for more than £ 750million in what then-Chancellor George Osborne called a “fantastic deal”.
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However, Professor Begg believes Prime Minister Boris Johnson could consider a turnaround – the buyout of a stake in Eurostar.
He said: “One question that could be asked is whether there is a funding mechanism whereby the UK taxpayer is protected.
“Or it could be a reversal of what David Cameron did in 2015, and take a new equity stake.
“It may be the reasonable long-term option for the British to renew their ownership of the business.
“It’s an option, but there are no easy options in this area because there will be a howl if taxpayer money is used to support a French business.
“I doubt ordinary punters are being trained on this, but it’s something the government will take into consideration, almost certainly the math that will be done is whether shareholders should be expected to extend their support any longer.”
The Eurostar is 55% owned by SNCF, 40% by the CDPQ and Hermès infrastructure funds, and 5% by the Belgian SNCB.