Two high-speed train companies are joining forces to create a rail giant that will serve five countries across the continent.
Eurostar and Thalys will combine into a single operator connecting the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, after the European Commission approved the merger on Tuesday.
It was first announced in 2019 but the pandemic caused ticket sales to drop overnight, pushing back the plans. Both companies suffered financial difficulties with Eurostar nearly going out of business.
Now the decision has been approved by the Commission which found that it would not raise any concerns under EU competition rules, with very little impact on the structure of the rail market.
What is Project Green Speed?
Thalys currently runs high-speed routes between France, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium while Eurostar runs services through the Channel Tunnel from London to Paris Brussels and Amsterdam. Both companies are majority-owned by French train company SNCF.
“The challenge of the climate emergency and the demand for eco-responsible transport require an ambitious response. By proposing to pool the combined strengths of Eurostar and Thalys we want to respond to this challenge,” president of SNCF Guillaume Pepy said when the project was first proposed.
Pepy added that the creation of a European high-speed rail firm gives the company’s 18.5 million passengers an attractive alternative to road and air transport.
Known as Project Green Speed, one of the goals of the merger is to increase passenger numbers to 30 million a year by 2030. It also hopes to maximise the use of renewable energy in its combined fleet of trains.
Sophie Dutordoir, CEO of Belgian rail company SNCB and chairman of the board for Thalys also said the merger could only be positive for passengers.
“This merger project is based on the firm belief that trains are the most sustainable, fast, efficient and safest way to travel in Europe - now more than ever.”
What does the merger of Eurostar and Thalys mean for passengers?
The main benefits for consumers will be better scheduling, ticketing and a common loyalty programme across the entire unified network.
It will be easier for passengers to, for example, take a Eurostar service to Paris then connect with a Thalys service to travel on to Germany.
In the future, there could also be services that run all the way through from London via Brussels to cities currently served by Thalys, including Cologne or Frankfurt.
But all UK-bound travellers will have to pass through border control before getting on the train. It means that these stations will have to add processing terminals like the ones at Paris Gare du Nord and London St Pancras which could take some time to implement.