GREENSPEED MERGER ON ICE
The planned merger of French Railways (SNCF) majority owned high-speed operators Eurostar and Paris – Amsterdam/Germany operator Thalys has been delayed as a result of the financial impact of the pandemic. Whether the merger proceeds at all will depend on both companies getting their finances back into shape.
Media reports in early April quoting Thalys CEO Bertrand Gosselin revealed that Thalys, like Eurostar, has had to borrow from external sources. But unlike Eurostar, which has accumulated around £600 million of debt, Thalys has previously not borrowed from banks – using only funds provided by its shareholders, SNCF (60%) and Belgian Railways SNCB (40%). Thalys is looking to set up around €100 million in bank borrowing, although the exact amount required will depend upon how the pandemic and passenger numbers develop.
SNCF revealed 2020 revenue figures for both companies in its annual report published in March. Eurostar revenue was down €873 million, or 75% down compared to 2019, with passenger numbers down 78% for the full year (in which only January and February were anything like ‘normal’ as pandemic lockdowns in Europe began in early March). Thalys fared slightly better, with revenue down €360 million (66%) and passenger numbers down 68%.