Officially created last May, Eurostar Group is now preparing to change hands. It is Gwendoline Cazenave, formerly of the SNCF, who will take over the general management of the holding company which brings together the Eurostar and Thalys brands. She will take office on October 1, replacing Jacques Damas, who has led Eurostar since the end of 2020 and Eurostar Group since its creation.
It’s a return to operational functions, and even a return to basics for the one who spent most of her career at the SNCF before joining the consulting firm Oliver Wyman in 2020. Aged 52, Gwendoline Cazenave notably held the financial management of SNCF Voyages and the general management of the TGV Atlantique axis.
The challenges of consolidation
With this new position, Gwendoline Cazenave must therefore implement the merger between Eurostar and Thalys, as underlined by Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs and Alain Krakovitch, Director of TGV-Intercités and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Eurostar Group: “We are convinced that Gwendoline Cazenave will be able to meet the challenges of merging Eurostar and Thalys to meet the growing demand for sustainable mobility by promoting the development of rail transport in Europe. »
His work will mainly focus on the operational aspects, the legal aspects having now been settled. The two international rail carriers thus merged into Eurostar Group on May 1, after a long process started in 2019 with the Green Speed project. The capital of the holding company, based in Brussels, is divided between SNCF Voyageurs (55.75%), the Caisse de depot du Québec (19.31%), the Belgian National Railway Company (18.5%) and funds managed by Federated Hermes Infrastructure1 (6.44%), and establishes the predominance of the French rail operator.
Christophe Fanichet and Alain Krakovitch have also praised the action of the person who has led this merger so far: “We have full confidence in Gwendoline Cazenave to now lead the company and develop the activity on the path and cleaned up Jacques Damas. […] It enabled Eurostar, deprived of 95% of its activity for 15 months, to get out of an unprecedented situation and to materialize the decision of the shareholders by launching the new company on its development trajectory. We also salute the action of Bertrand Gosselin, CEO of Thalys since 2019, who has fully managed this unprecedented crisis and who has been able to support the growth of the company. »
30 million passengers within 10 years
At present, the two railway companies Thalys and Eurostar continue to exist, one based in London, the other in Brussels, but only the Eurostar brand should continue. The stated ambition is to accelerate the modal shift by offering “the largest international high-speed network in Western Europe”, with the objective of increasing from 19 million passengers transported before the crisis to 30 million here 10 years. Traffic must in particular develop towards Northern Europe
For this, Thalys like Eurostar will first have to regain the traffic lost during the health crisis during which the two companies saw their activity collapse. With its high-speed trains between France, Belgium, the Netherlands and north-west Germany, Thalys transported 2.5 million in 2020 and 2.7 million passengers in 2021 compared to 7.8 million in 2019. At the same time, Eurostar transported 2.5 million in 2020 and 1.6 million passengers in 2021, compared to 11.1 million in 2019.
Traffic has picked up more strongly since the start of the year, with an acceleration in the spring, particularly for Eurostar, which started from further away. The question remains whether business traffic, which is a determining factor on these lines, will return to its pre-crisis level. This is still not the case for the moment despite renewed dynamism before the summer.
“This merger is also a powerful lever to accelerate the takeover of Eurostar and Thalys, both affected by the health crisis, thus offering travelers the largest international high-speed network in Western Europe”, Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs.
This merger should also make it possible to reduce costs with the establishment of synergies. For Alain Krakovitch, this merger should make it possible to optimize the use of network infrastructure capital. A necessity as the SNCF faces the opening of the rail market to competition, thanks to which the Spanish or Italian counterparts (Renfe, Trenitalia) are already eyeing lines in France and beyond.