European rail enthusiasts, rejoice! Your lives may soon get a hell of a lot easier. Earlier this month the European Commission approved the merger of Eurostar and Thalys, meaning that travel between Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK will soon all be covered by one train operator.
Thalys is a high-speed train operator which currently serves all of the above countries apart from the UK. Eurostar, on the other hand, runs services through the Channel Tunnel between the UK and Paris, Lille, Brussels and Amsterdam. A merger would combine the networks, putting a huge number of destinations within easier reach.
If you live in mainland Europe, it essentially means that the UK is now part of your travel network. If you’re in the UK, it might mean that you can reach several new destinations by rail – including Germany, which is currently unreachable by direct train from the UK. For British train travellers in particular, it could be the biggest shake-up in Continental rail travel in decades.
Both Eurostar and Thalys are mostly owned by French national train operator SNCF, but previously they were independent services. The merger was initially proposed back in 2019 but plans were pushed back by reduced travel (and thus reduced ticket sales) during the pandemic.
Earlier this month the European Commission deemed that the merger would not breach market competition rules within the EU, giving it the go-ahead. It’s part of EU-wide efforts to ramp up access to high-speed train travel and provide a valid alternative to short-haul flying. Appropriately, SNCF is dubbing the merger ‘Project Green Speed’.
So what can train travellers expect from the new, single operator? Well, it’s believed that the new operator will take the Eurostar name. Passengers can also expect more streamlined scheduling, ticketing and loyalty programmes. Not to mention the potential for an enormous network of direct trains. London to Germany, here we come!
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