Channel Tunnel delays cause problems for holidaymakers: Eurotunnel refuses compensation for broken promises, Sue Fieldman reports

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EUROTUNNEL shareholders who arranged holidays to take advantage of the completion of the Channel Tunnel could be hundreds of pounds out-of-pocket following the latest delay to its opening.

Many Eurotunnel shareholders bought shares in the company for the travel perks offered, and some have booked holidays in anticipation of the tunnel being opened this summer.

Angela Williams of Surrey purchased 100 Eurotunnel shares when they were first offered for sale in 1987. She and her husband, Steve, subsequently bought a further 150 jointly in the rights issue in 1990.

Mrs Williams said: 'I know you should never buy shares just for the incentives, but the travel perks did seem a reasonably good deal.'

The 1987 share purchase entitles her to one return journey through the tunnel for a nominal charge of pounds 1 per vehicle. The trip can be taken at any time during the first year of the tunnel's operation.

The perk for their 1990 purchase is a 50 per cent discount on one return journey in the first year of opening, and another during the following year.

The opening of the Channel Tunnel has been delayed several times. In one Eurotunnel promotional leaflet that the Williams family have, it was scheduled to open to cars on 15 June last year.

Then the 1993 interim report from the company was confident that the tunnel would be 'fully ready for service on 6 May 1994'.

In December the family booked their 1994 summer holidays. Like many families, they travel in the school holidays and have to book early to get the dates they want.

They decided to go to a hotel in France. The price of the hotel holiday package included a ferry crossing.

They did want not to take the ferry part of the package. After all, they had their Eurotunnel perk of travel through the tunnel for pounds 1.

They got a pounds 70 discount on the total holiday price, and agreed to make their own travel arrangements.

Mrs Williams said: 'When we booked in December 1993, Eurotunnel said the tunnel would be ready in May 1994. We thought we were being more than cautious when we deliberately arranged our holiday for late August 1994.'

Eurotunnel has since announced that the tunnel will not be open for passenger services next month. The company is still unable to confirm an exact opening date.

Mrs Williams said: 'We booked a holiday in France only because we wished to take advantage of our travel privilege. We set our whole holiday up to use it.

'Now, because the tunnel services will start too late, we will be forced to travel by alternative means at considerable extra expense and not at a time to suit us.'

Mrs Williams has checked with a ferry operator. The cost for the family to travel will be pounds 270. This extra cost will have to come out of their holiday budget.

On 6 April she wrote to Eurotunnel and asked if the company could guarantee that they could use the tunnel for their summer holiday travel.

If not, could shareholders claim compensation for their additional expenses? She argued that they had been misled by Eurotunnel about the operational date of May 1994.

A spokesman for Eurotunnel said this week: 'We are not in a position to confirm and give an exact opening date and we therefore cannot guarantee she will be able to use the service for her summer holidays in August.

'Eurotunnel will make a public announcement once an opening date is known.

'It is expected that a limited introductory service will be available during the summer, on a pre-booking basis, for influential groups, such as consumer groups and unitholders (shareholders).'

However, Mrs Williams and thousands of other shareholders obviously cannot take the risk that they are sufficiently influential to be able to travel through the tunnel on their planned holiday departure date.

They will have to make alternative arrangements.

Eurotunnel rejects the compensation claim and says that the family will be able to have full use of their travel privileges during a minimum period of 12 months from the start of the commercial opening of the tunnel.

(Photograph omitted)

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