Changes planned for Eurostar, French rail operator announces

French rail operator SNCF wants to merge Eurostar, which operates high-speed trains to London, and the Thalys service that takes passengers from France to Belgium and the Netherlands, its chief executive said on Friday.

Changes planned for Eurostar, French rail operator announces
Photo: AFP

Guillaume Pepy said that the move, which would take up to two years to implement, would create a single and more efficient European railway company and allow travellers simpler and more efficient journeys.

He told reporters that the two networks, which are majority owned by the SNCF, had a total potential to transport 30 million passengers a year compared with 18.5 million in 2018.

The project for the merger, dubbed “Greenspeed”, would have to be approved by the other shareholders of both railway firms and their supervisory boards.

“The idea is to develop and expand the network,” Pepy told reporters in Paris, adding that “SNCF clearly wants to keep control” over the merged entity.

SNCF has a majority 55 percent stake in Eurostar, which runs trains from Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels to London through the Channel Tunnel.

The other investors in Eurostar are the Canadian institutional investor La Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) with 30 percent, British fund Hermes Infrastructure with 10 percent while Belgian railway operator SNCB has five percent.

Thalys is owned 60 percent by SNCF with SNCB holding a 40 percent stake.

The brand name and the headquarters of the proposed new company have yet to be determined.

“Our aim is to create a European company that can ease the transport from city to city between the countries and can compete with the plane and the car,” said Rachel Picard, the head of SNCF's passenger arm SNCF Voyages.

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Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

The UK is set to scrap all Covid-19 travel restrictions in what the government described as a "landmark moment".

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Testing is no longer required for vaccinated travellers, but the UK government has announced that it will scrap all Covid-19 travel rules on Friday, March 18th.

“As one of the first major economies to remove all its remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions, this is a landmark moment for passengers and the travel and aviation sector,” said the Government in a press release. 

From 4am on March 18th:

  • Passengers going to the UK will no longer be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before travel;
  • Passengers who are not vaccinated will not be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, or a Day 2 test following arrival. Fully vaccinated travellers are already exempt from having to do this;
  • Hotel quarantine for travellers coming from ‘red list’ countries, of which there are currently none, will also be scrapped by the end of the month. 

“We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and keep a reserve of measures which can be rapidly deployed if needed to keep us safe,” said UK Health Minister Sajid Javid. 

The UK has lifted all Covid-related rules including mask rules and mandatory self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

Some European countries still have Covid restrictions in place for unvaccinated people coming from the UK. 

Until March 18th

Until the new rules come into effect, all travellers are required to fill out a passenger locator form. 

Unvaccinated travellers are also required to take pre-departure test and a test on or before Day 2 following their arrival. 

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided with an EU Covid Certificate.

For the UK “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

However people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in some European countries – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.