Eurotunnel denies making 460m pounds claim

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The Independent Online
EUROTUNNEL has dismissed as 'speculation' French newspaper reports that it has demanded Fr4bn ( pounds 460m) compensation from the French and British governments.

A Eurotunnel spokeswoman said it was in talks with the regulatory authorities over who should pay for the costs of changes to specifications. But she added: 'We have not presented a formal claim and the figure of pounds 400m is not ours.'

Eurotunnel has patched up its differences with TransManche Link, the contractors' consortium, but it is still seeking compensation from the governments on two separate issues.

The first, to which the newspaper reports refer, is for the cost of extra safety measures, such as the increased width of fire doors on the shuttle trains. Eurotunnel paid TML for these as part of the two groups' settlement, and is now trying to reclaim the cost.

Michael Woodcock, an analyst with Nikko Europe in London, said this was the first time a figure had been quoted. 'If Eurotunnel got Fr4bn, it would be very bullish for the company,' he said.

The other claim is against British Rail and SNCF, the French rail operator, and was put into an arbitration procedure in August. Eurotunnel says that because of delays in building infrastructure - mainly the high-speed link on the British side - the rail groups will not be able to use 50 per cent of the tunnel's capacity as originally agreed.

This means Eurotunnel will be earning less in tolls than originally envisaged. The company has been trying to renegotiate the contract since last year, but has now asked the International Chamber of Commerce to act as arbiter.

BR, SNCF and Belgian railways will provide Eurostar services from London to Paris and Brussels, while Eurotunnel's Le Shuttle will carry cars and freight back and forth just through the tunnel. Freight shuttle services are due to start on 7 March next year, with city-to-city freight services following a week later. Le Shuttle will start on 5 May and city-to-city passenger rail services should begin in July.