In the Brussels-Midi station, the two machines face each other. On the left, the ruby red motor of the Thalys 4303 which has just arrived from Paris, on the right the green locomotive from the 1950s which provided the same service decades before. This Monday June 14 is a special day. The two shareholders of the Thalys railway company, SNCF (60% of the capital) and its Belgian counterpart, SNCB (40%), have decided, by taking out the old locomotives, to celebrate the “one hundred and seventy-fifth” anniversary of the Paris-Brussels line. It was in 1846 and we did not take one hour and twenty-two, as in 2021, but two days to connect by train to the Belgian capital.
One hundred and seventy-five years later, the Thalys, which are also celebrating their twenty-five years of age, want to make this moment a rebirth. For the first time in months, the company is setting up, on June 14, eleven Paris-Brussels round trips per day (compared to seven the day before), or half of its pre-crisis transport plan due to Covid -19. Because the Franco-Belgian company, connecting France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, like all international transport companies, is emerging from fifteen months of an unprecedented health storm.
“After a record year 2019 where we transported 8 million passengers and achieved a turnover of 550 million euros, we took the waves of Covid-19 head-on, says Bertrand Gosselin, CEO of Thalys. Traffic and sales declined by 70% in 2020, but it was instead 90% to 95% at the height of the pandemic crisis. And the first quarter of 2021 was a disaster, marked by the harshness of the travel restriction measures to curb the epidemic. “
Despite a savings plan of 300 million euros, projects slowed down or canceled, and a reduction in the workforce (from 700 to 600 employees), the crisis ended up putting the company on the verge of suspension of payments. “We had to call in the banks at the end of May. They followed us for 120 million euros, repayable over four years ”, specifies Mr. Gosselin.
The balance of power has shifted
It now remains to straighten the bar. Thalys plans to ramp up gradually and reach 70% of its usual frequencies in July, then 80% in September. The start of the school year will be an opportunity to present a redesigned offer for professional customers, and to unveil renovated trainsets, called “RubY”, inside brought up to date and capable of carrying 7% more passengers. As for the business plan, it foresees, except for new health risks, to reach financial balance in 2022 and to find traffic levels comparable to those of 2019 in 2023 or 2024.
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