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Eurostar in emergency talks with lenders over £400m debt pile

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
A Eurostar e320 high-speed train heads towards France through Ashford in Kent as the continuing COVID-19 crisis has forced it to slash services from the normal level of more than 50 trains a day with a 95 percent fall in passenger numbers. Picture date: Thursday January 21, 2021. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
At the moment it is running just one train in each direction between London and Paris. It operated more than 50 daily services before pre-pandemic, and two trains an hour during peak times. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images

Eurostar is engaging in crunch talks with banks to avoid collapse as the June deadline to repay a £400m ($552m) debt pile nears.

The company is said to be holding discussions with a group of its lenders, including NatWest (NWG.L) to secure lifeline funding as the French and UK governments resist bailout, the Telegraph reports.

So far, it has received millions in funding from lenders such as Santander (SAN.MC) and France's Credit Agricole (ACA.PA). It must pay back the loans by June this year.

While there is an option to extend for 12 months, this requires Eurostar to adhere to strict covenants, including retaining a minimum cash balance of £35m.

Eurostar is focusing its efforts on to restructuring its loans after several weeks of lobbying ministers from both countries yielded no success, sources told the newspaper.

In February, transport secretary Grant Shapps told ministers that the government is "very keen for Eurostar to survive" but insisted "it’s not our company." He added that "things like UK export finance" could be an option for the company.

Watch: Eurostar Rail Service Facing Financial Woes Due to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has hit all forms of public transport systems and the global travel industries. This has lead to the operator's passenger numbers plummeting 95% since March 2020 from the previous year.

At the moment it is running just one train in each direction between London and Paris. It operated more than 50 daily services before pre-pandemic, and two trains an hour during peak times.

The channel tunnel operator has been left fighting for survival over the past year amid an ever-changing set of travel policies and widespread coronavirus lockdowns. In January, the company warned it is in a “very critical” state and on track for financial ruin.

READ MORE: Pension giant joins calls for Eurostar bailout

In 2015, Britain sold its stake in the operator to France for £750m. The French government has pumped €200m (£178m) into Eurostar to keep it afloat during the crisis.

The French state rail firm Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF) owns 60% of the firm.

Eurostar was snubbed by the Treasury in November when it had announced subsidies to major airports of up to £8m each.

At the time the train operator said: “The new scheme of rates relief for airports puts Eurostar at a direct disadvantage against its airline competitors.

“Eurostar has been left fighting for its survival against a 95% drop in demand, whilst aviation has received over £1.8bn in support through loans, tax deferrals and financing.”

The company which was founded in 1994, has been credited with reducing carbon emissions. Since it started the services, air travel between London and Paris has more than halved.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?