Eurostar is undergoing a boardroom reshuffle, thought to be connected with its new ownership restructure. The promotion of Frenchman Nicolas Petrovic to chief executive, replacing Briton Richard Brown, is seen to appease a new proposal that will see the French reduce their stake in the high-speed train operator.
SNCF - which currently owns 62 percent of Eurostar - will reduce its stake to about 55 percent, whilst the UK’s Department for Transport will own closer to 40 per cent, with Belgium’s state railway SNCB retaining its 5 per cent stake.
Richard Brown, will shift to the chairman’s role, replacing Guillaume Pepy, another Frenchman, who steps down.
It is thought that while Paris and London have agreed the structure, they are just waiting for Brussels to give its approval.
One source told the Daily Mail that the promotion of Petrovic from Chief Operating Officer has caused a stir among Eurostar’s other directors, some of whom had hoped they were in with a shot at the top job.
“Some of the directors are not happy about the appointment as they feel it is a concession to the French,” the source said.
A spokesman for Eurostar said: “It is merely a rational progression that reflects the fact that Nicolas has been chief operating officer since 2003. He has been selected on merit. For no other reason.”
Asked whether Petrovic was being given the top job to compensate the French relinquishing some of their stake, the spokesman insisted “in no way whatsoever” was this the case.
The overhaul of Eurostar’s corporate structure is all part of the company’s move towards becoming the first ever European train group, to be known as Eurostar SE.
This means that it will have the legal right to operate in any European country, with all the relevant licences and safety approval.
The legal move will make it much easier for Eurostar to expand services into any European country, giving it a lead on other high-speed rail operators like Germany’s Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Dutch company NedRail.
This could prove significant from 1 January 2010 when the European rail market is liberalised, allowing operators to set up services in any country.
Richard Brown has confirmed his interest in running Eurostar services to Amsterdam, Cologne and Frankfurt.
The high-speed Brussels to Amsterdam line opens next year and the fast Brussels to Cologne line started running recently.
Industry sources believe that transforming Eurostar’s legal status into a single company, rather than its current joint venture status, could help fend off predators like DB.
The Germans are understood to be eyeing Britain’s stake in Eurostar. If the stake is not for sale, then it is understood that DB will draw up plans to launch its own competing high-speed rail services out of London’s St Pancras station to major European cities.
AirFrance and NedRail are also weighing up their options when the market is thrown open to competition next year.