High-speed rail operators Eurostar and Thalys plan to merge and create a single network dubbed Green Speed, spanning five countries and linking London, Paris Amsterdam, Cologne, Brussels, Bordeaux and Marseille.
Between them, Eurostar and Thalys run 112 trains per day carrying more than 18.5 million passengers per year – and as the combined Green Speed entity, would offer “seamless travel for passengers with one ticket covering any journey across the network and better connections between trains," according to a statement issued by both operators.
There would also be "a single passenger loyalty programme" to reward frequent riders.
Subject to negotiations, Eurostar could run directly between London and Amsterdam by the end of 2019 – the route current requires changing trains at Brussels. However, Thalys trains would not be able to use the Channel Tunnel due to its strict safety and operating standards.
Environmental issues are front and centre in the Green Speed proposal, which would recognise "the challenge of climate change and Europe’s growing demand for eco-responsible and sustainable travel," says Guillaume Pepy, CEO of French National Railways (SNCF), which holds a majority stake in both Eurostar and Thalys.
“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."
Thalys Chairman Sophie Dutordoir echoed Pepy's remarks, adding that combining Eurostar and Thalys "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."
The merger would reduce operating costs by combining the two operators’ information and distribution systems, and management of their train fleets.
The Green Speed plan will now be put to the boards of the three owners of Eurostar and Thalys to seek their approval, after which it would need the green light from EU competition officials.