Railways, Eurostar’s ambitions: new partners, 30 million passengers

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Gwendoline Cazenave is a 54 year old French lady. For a year and a half, you have been at the head of a company created in 2022 from the merger between Eurostar and Thalys. «To tell the truth, our company is the only one in the world to cross so many borders every day», she explains to Il Sole 24 Ore in her Brussels offices. Eurostar connects 28 cities in five countries (Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands). How many other railway companies can claim to be the official carrier of the national teams of four countries at the Olympic Games in Paris this summer?

The 2023 results are good: the number of passengers increased by 22% annually, to reach a total of 18.6 million people (returning to pre-pandemic levels). The turnover in 2022 was 1.5 billion euros. In fact, between four Northern European capitals, Eurostar has almost replaced the plane, creating new forms of symbiosis. The company only offers high-speed routes. Paris-Brussels, 300 kilometres, is covered in one hour and twenty-forty times a day, round trip. 16 trains travel between Brussels and London every day, in just over two hours.

According to Eurostat, between 2015 and 2022 the number of passenger kilometers in the European Union rose from 375 to 393 billion. At a time when the Twenty-Seven are aiming to reduce pollution and safeguard the environment, the European Commission has decided to promote the train beyond national borders. Brussels recently selected 10 pilot routes, all cross-border, including Rome-Monaco and Milan-Monaco (see Il Sole 24 Ore of 15 December 2021). At the same time, Trenitalia has recently started offering the Milan-Turin-Paris route.

Eurostar knows the technical, legal and trade union difficulties that railway companies face in crossing borders, despite the liberalization of the market. The company has four types of trains, depending on the network. Every day its trains use six different infrastructures (the Channel Tunnel has its own particularities). Traveling staff must speak four languages ​​(French, Dutch, English and German). “By 2030 we want to serve 30 million passengers,” says Ms. Cazenave, in command of 2,400 people of 37 different nationalities.

The president of the railway company does not intend to create new destinations or expand further: “Our network is our backbone.” Rather, she wants to facilitate connections with national rail networks. You give the example of Geneva: «We want to ensure that the passenger can opt for the train traveling between Brussels and Geneva, with a connection in Paris. I realize that there is a change of station, between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon, but our job is to make it as simple as possible.” The challenge is arduous.

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