Eurostar sale backed by government subsidies

The sale of Eurostar is a terrible deal for the taxpayer. It is only possible because the government subsidises loss-making high-speed commuter services to Kent and this funding now pays a high proportion of the infrastructure costs of High Speed 1. According to a 2012 National Audit Office analysis:

‘Under the new track access charging regime, access charges paid by Eurostar were reduced to the levels being paid by the domestic operator. A greater proportion of overall charges (60 per cent of HS1 Limited’s forecast access charge income over the 30-year concession) is now paid by the domestic operator because it uses more of the capacity of the line. To support domestic high speed services, the Department pays additional subsidy to the domestic train operating company. The Department forecasts that additional subsidy payments will amount to almost £110 million in 2011-12. If this level of subsidy in 2010 prices was to continue until the end of the concession in 2040, we estimate that the present value of subsidy payments will be some £2,100 million but the actual level will depend on the outcome of future franchise negotiations.’

The NAO report also reveals that five years ago, taxpayers also spent around £800 million (in current prices) bailing out Eurostar and its parent company. The massive losses accrued since the service started in 1994 were effectively written off. Passenger numbers have been over 60 per cent lower than originally forecast when the line was approved.

It seems highly unlikely that Eurostar would have been commercially viable without these bailouts and hidden subsidies. Indeed, the sale may be viewed as a form of government borrowing in the sense that it relies on ongoing taxpayer support for the route over the long term. The receipts are of course miniscule compared with the estimated £11 billion total cost (in 2015 prices) of High Speed 1.

 

An earlier version of this article appeared in City AM.

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