Users will have to get used to the name change. Thalys will indeed step aside in favor of Eurostar this fall, announced Tuesday January 24 Gwendoline Cazenave, general manager of Eurostar Group, an entity which brings together the two railway companies since their merger in May 2022.
“We need a unique, strong brand for our customers, which is the symbol of the European network that we want to set up”, she explained. The Eurostar name was chosen because of its strong reputation among consumers, to the detriment of the Thalys brand, which is less well known outside European borders.
Merger of the two companies in 2021
Since 1994, Eurostar has been running TGVs between London and the European continent through the Channel Tunnel, which connects the United Kingdom to France. The Thalys has provided the link between Paris, the Benelux and north-west Germany since 1995.
The merger of Eurostar and Thalys within the same group was finalized on 1er May 2022, after being initiated by the former SNCF boss, Guillaume Pepy, before his departure from the public company at the end of 2019.
In fact, the Thalys brand will therefore disappear concretely in October, when a new website, an application, a reservation system and a common loyalty program for the group are launched.
A new unique logo should also be imposed at the end of this year: a six-pointed star in an open circle, which forms an “e”. This drawing recalls, according to its promoters, the mythical Etoile du Nord train, which linked Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam from 1924 to 1996, the 1958 Universal Exhibition in Brussels and the first logo of Eurostar.
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But the old Thalys trains that will continue to run will remain red. “We are not going to repaint all the trains! »confirmed on Tuesday Mme Cazenave. The service offered on board and the passenger classes will be unified by 2024.
Find pre-Brexit attendance and health crisis
At the origin of this merger, the objective of the SNCF, majority shareholder of the two companies, was to make better use of the 51 trains in the fleet of the two railway companies: 25 for Eurostar and 26 for Thalys. By 2025, the current Eurostars will thus be able to travel throughout the network, for example between Paris and Brussels. The Thalys are not intended to cross the Channel Tunnel.
The objective is also to reach 30 million passengers for the two companies by 2030. What is “more than doable”according to M.me Cazenave. New trains could be purchased before this date to help increase connections.
But in the immediate future, it is first a question of finding the 19 million passengers of 2019, the level of attendance before Brexit and the health crisis. A figure from which Eurostar Group trains were still far in 2022, with 14.8 million people transported (8.3 million by Eurostar and 6.5 million by Thalys).
Hard hit by Brexit and Covid-19, Eurostar almost went bankrupt in 2021, and Thalys also had to be helped by its shareholders. The new group has a debt of 850 million pounds (960 million euros) to repay, according to Mme Cazenave. But the travelers have returned since the spring of 2022, and the group is “become profitable again” in the second half of 2022, she welcomed on Tuesday.
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“The big subject we have is the bottleneck at the borders”which has not allowed to restore the 2019 service to London, because of the time lost in the controls related to Brexit, regretted the leader of the group, Tuesday. “We had our customers come half an hour before the train, now it’s an hour”she noted.
In stations, Eurostar also lacks space and agents to properly manage passenger flows at the border. Thus, Eurostar can only sell 700 seats out of 870 at peak times. In Amsterdam, only 250 customers can be boarded for cross-Channel connections, compared to 175 in Rotterdam.
The delayed entry into force of the EES, a system for registering travelers arriving in the Schengen area, originally scheduled for 1er May, should not help manage the flow of passengers. According to the company’s simulations, it could indeed pass only 300 customers per half hour.
Eurostar Group is a holding company based in Brussels, owned 55.75% by SNCF Voyageurs, 19.31% by the Caisse de depot et placement du Québec (CDPQ), 18.5% by SNCB (Belgian) and 6.44 % by funds managed by Federated Hermes Infrastructure.
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