French state railway operator SNCF has proposed merging Eurostar and its European high-speed counterpart Thalys to offer travellers a more eco-friendly alternative to flying.
The project, codenamed Green Speed, was presented to the boards of SNCF, SNCB and Patina Rail last Friday. It includes plans that could provide passengers with a more connected journey across the two operators’ networks, which are spread between the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
According to SNCF, Eurostar and Thalys operate a combined 112 trains per day, serving more than 18.5 million passengers annually. Under the Green Speed project, the group aims to increase capacity to nearly 30 million customers by 2030.
Passengers would benefit from single ticketing between countries and cities on the combined network, while SNCF said new digital tools would allow for quick connections and improved schedules.
SNCF owns a majority stake in both Eurostar and Thalys and said the operators share a vision “to directly connect European cities across borders whilst respecting the environment”.
By combining resources, the company plans to “maximise the use of renewable energy” to reduce its fleet’s CO2 emissions. It also aims to introduce further environmental policies for waste management, the removal of plastics, “eco-driving” of trains and sustainable purchasing.
If the proposal is approved by the company boards and is cleared by the European Commission, SNCF said the merger would create “a powerful platform for the future growth of European high-speed rail” and a solution to growing demand for eco-friendly and sustainable travel.
“This new service would be an additional reason to choose the train over road or air travel in Europe,” the company said in a statement. “Combining resources – in particular fleets as well as information and distribution systems – would increase economic efficiency and provide the customer with an enhanced, sustainable commercial service, delivering on the ambition to increase the number of direct links between European cities in the future.”
SNCF chairman Guillaume Pepy commented: “The challenge of climate change and the demand for eco-responsible travel calls for an ambitious response. Bringing together the strengths of Eurostar and Thalys would be a powerful response to this challenge. The creation of a combined European high-speed rail company would deliver a compelling alternative to road and air travel for our 18.5 million passengers and would herald a new era in the development of European high-speed rail services. High speed is an opportunity for Europe, Europe an opportunity for high speed.”
Sophie Dutordoir, CEO of SNCB and chairman of Thalys, added: “Thalys and Eurostar joining forces would come at the right time and could only be beneficial to all travellers. It would combine railway expertise with stable shareholders. The combination would be based on the strong conviction that, now more than ever, the train is the safest, most sustainable, fastest and most efficient solution for travelling inside Europe. Brussels would play a central role in this project as the hub for the various routes, linking all the cities that are served.”