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Eurostar: UK launches process to sell its stake

Britain's government officially launched on Monday an attempt to sell its 40-percent stake in Eurostar, the high-speed rail service connecting London with Paris and Brussels. The French state has the first refusal on the stake.

Eurostar: UK launches process to sell its stake
The UK has launched a process to sell its 40 percent stake in Eurostar. Can you imagine the French doing the same? Photo: Mike Knell/AFP

It forms part the state's plan to recoup £20 billion ($32.2 billion, 25.4 billion euros) from asset sales by 2020 to help bring down the country's debt pile.

The government announced its intention to privatise its stake in Eurostar late last year.

"I am determined that we go on making the decisions to reform the British economy and tackle our debts. So we will proceed with the potential sale of the UK's shareholding in Eurostar today," finance minister George Osborne said in a statement.

The Treasury said it "would expect to reach definitive agreements in the first quarter of 2015" over the sale, ahead of a general election in Britain that is due soon after.

Eurostar is also 55-percent owned by French rail operator SNCF and five percent by Belgium's SNCB.

The train service has carried more than 145 million passengers in its 20 years of existence, and 10 million alone last year, the Treasury said.

Trade union leaders meanwhile hit out of the potential sale.

"This compounds the issue of foreign ownership of Britain's railways as the French state have first refusal on our slice of the highly profitable Eurostar cake," said Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union.

"The French and Belgians think we are insane knocking off such a valuable and strategic infrastructure asset," he added.

There are concerns also that the government could offload the stake at a price deemed too cheap, in a repetition of last year's part-privatisation of Britain's Royal Mail postal service.

Shares in the company surged following its stock market debut.

Eurostar is soon to begin services to other French cities, while competition beckons.

Last year, Germany's Deutsche Bahn obtained approval to run trains through the Channel Tunnel and is expected to begin offering services linking London to Frankfurt and Cologne in Germany from 2016.

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EUROSTAR

Eurostar’s souvenir bomb warning after Paris station evacuated

Passengers on Eurostar have been warned about bringing shells that have been turned into souvenirs onto the trains after Paris' Gare du Nord station had to be evacuated.

Eurostar's souvenir bomb warning after Paris station evacuated
The Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord was evacuated
The Paris transport hub had to be evacuated early on Monday morning after a World War II shell was found in a passenger's bag.
 

 

The evacuation, which happened at about 5.45am on Monday, was completed by 10am, but has led to longer than usual queues for Eurostar services.

It is the latest in a series of security alerts caused by passengers trying to take souvenir war artillery on to trains.

Eurostar issued a special warning ahead of the First World War commemorations in November 2018, but with just a month to go until memorial events for the D Day landings, there are fears that the problems could recur.
 
“As you're travelling during the commemoration period, please remember that you can't bring any real or replica bombs, shells (complete or partial) or weapons on board – even if you bought them from a gift shop,” Eurostar told passengers last year.
   
“If you bring them with you, they'll be confiscated at security and may result in the need to evacuate the station.”
   
Old World War I shells turned into flower pots have been popular souvenirs in Belgium and France ever since the end of the conflict, but passengers attempting to take them on board trains for Britain have sparked bomb scares in recent years.
 
Some of the alerts, which happen every few months, have also been caused by war memorabilia collectors bringing back disarmed ordnance unearthed by farmers at battle sites in northeast France.
   
Eurostar said even disarmed shells can set off X-ray alarms.
   
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