Scotland’s transport minister is calling for talks on new connections for the Caledonian Sleeper train in London to help save Eurostar from bankruptcy and boost direct tourism from the rest of Europe.
Michael Matheson stepped in as concern grows about the future of the Channel rail operator.
Passenger numbers plummeted because of the covid crisis and only one train a day currently runs from London to Paris.
Despite the looming financial disaster, there are signs of a political deadlock between the UK and French authorities over who should move first in any bail out.
The SNP said the UK Government should press Network Rail to look at future connections for the Scotland-London sleeper service and Eurostar at St Pancras International.
The sleeper normally links Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Fort William, Glasgow and Edinburgh with Euston station in London. The timetable and departure points were reduced during lockdown this year.
Mr Matheson said better links in London would boost tourism in Scotland and help cut carbon emissions.
“Making it easier and quicker to take the train from Paris or Brussels to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness could see thousands of visitors take the low carbon route to a holiday in the highlands and is precisely the kind of innovative thinking Scotland needs,” he said.
Emma Roddick, an SNP candidate in the Highlands, said: “Scotland’s train journeys are accompanied with some of the world’s most stunning views, which unsurprisingly attracts tourists from all across the world.
“With reports that the Eurostar service is finding itself in increasing financial hardship, it is vital that the UK government steps up and works with Network Rail to boost rail links, including between the Highlands and Europe,” she said.
“By establishing a proper connection between the Caledonian Sleeper service and the Eurostar in St Pancras International, there is an opportunity to create a low carbon and truly unrivalled travel experience – with passengers travelling from Paris and waking up in the Highlands to its stunning views.”
The St Pancras line to France was the first “high speed” line in Britain. A second, known as HS2, is planned from Euston to the north of England, with potential connections to existing track towards Scotland.
The two stations in London are just half a mile apart. An official report in 2014 ruled out linking the two lines in London as “too expensive”.
Patrick McLoughlin, who was Transport Secretary at Westminster at the time, said a link would “require too many compromises”.