Who Takes the Eurostar? Almost No One, as the Pandemic Fuels a Rail Crisis

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Earlier this month, David-Alexander Leduc rolled his suitcase down a nearly empty platform at the Gare du Nord train station and scanned his ticket at the turnstile to board the sole Eurostar leaving that day for London.

Mr. Leduc used to shuttle regularly for business on one of at least 17 high-speed Eurostar trains that ran back and forth daily, morning to night, through the underwater Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France.

He was lucky there was a train to take.

“It’s constraining,” said Mr. Leduc, who lives in London and has cut back hopping over to France to meet clients as a plunge in ridership from national quarantines forces Eurostar to slash services. “But you have to adapt.”

On Monday, a bad year for Eurostar suddenly turned worse. All service from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam was suspended for at least 48 hours, as governments on the continent banned travelers from Britain, a precaution as health officials try to control a new variant of coronavirus sweeping across parts of England. Trains will continue operating from Paris to London, the company said.

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Eurostar, the sleek and speedy mode of travel that ties London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other cities, is a shadow of itself, crippled by the pandemic. Its ridership has all but vanished, and its finances are threatened. More than 90 percent of its employees have been furloughed, one of its union said.

Its woes reflect a struggle for survival playing out across the European train industry, as the pandemic continues to upend the business of transportation. Like Europe’s airlines, the railway sector is facing its worst crisis in modern history.

Lockdowns and social distancing have led to a 70 to 90 percent plunge in ridership on railways across Europe.Credit…Hannah McKay/Reuters

Ridership has slumped 70 to 90 percent amid lockdowns and social-distancing requirements, pushing the industry toward a staggering €22 billion in losses this year, around the same expected for European

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