The Dartford MP has called for an urgent meeting with Eurostar and Government bosses to discuss the ‘perilous’ position of HS1 after it was revealed that Eurostar trains will not be returning to Kent until 2022.
Eurostar have announced that cross-Channel Eurostar trains will not be stopping in north Kent as planned for at least two years, and the Ebbsfleet and Ashford stations will be closed to international travellers until at least 2021.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said the withdrawal of the HS1 services leaves the county in a “perilous position.”
Eurostar announced in March that its services would not be pulling into the Kent stations due to lockdown, the latest news has sparked worries over job losses and disruption for passengers.
HS1 is funded via Eurostar, which is suffering “significant financial problems” during the ongoing pandemic, leading to the “very difficult decision.”
Mr Johnson said in Parliament: “Thousands of international travellers used to come into the country via HS1 before the virus hit.
“Now HS1 is in a perilous position, with both Ebbsfleet and Ashford stations closed to international travelers until at least 2021.
“Given the Department’s commitment to high-speed rail, would the Secretary of State or one of his team care to meet HS1, Eurostar and me to try to resolve this serious situation?”
In response, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Yes, it is a concern that those stations are closed until 2021 and I would be very happy, with the Rail Minister, to have that meeting.
“It is extremely concerning and is, again, another sign of how all-encompassing the fight against this virus—it is not over yet—is. I will make sure that the meeting is set up.”
Johnson added that he was also “deeply concerned about its (Eurostar’s) immediate future and I hope both the French and British Governments can act to keep it viable.”
In a statement, Eurostar says it has “not taken this decision lightly”.
A spokeswoman said: “Covid-19 has had a severe impact on the travel industry and on our business and we continue to operate in very challenging conditions.
“We have experienced an unprecedented fall in demand, with bookings down by 90% compared to last year.
“The environment remains very unpredictable and has been exacerbated by quarantine restrictions which are now across all of our markets.
“Given the uncertain outlook, it is crucial that we adapt and take action to reduce our costs so that we protect our business for the future.
“In 2021, therefore, we will reduce our timetable focusing only on our core routes and destinations where we see the highest demand.”
“We have not taken this decision lightly and have given this considerable thought, but given the severity of the situation we have to take action.
“Following this morning’s announcement, we will now start consultations with the unions which will be followed by individual consultations with any colleagues who may be impacted.”