Eurotunnel perks up on traffic rise

A strong growth in the number of passengers using the Channel Tunnel failed to stem concern about long-term prospects for debt-laden Eurotunnel.

The company's shares perked up at the news that 500,000 people passed through the tunnel in April due to heavy Easter traffic and the delivery of more trains. But analysts said April's volumes for both tourists and freight still remained below the company's forecasts.

The Shuttle trains carried a record 96,735 vehicles in April, reaching 4,483 vehicles a day during the Easter vacation, according to the first in a regular monthly briefing by the company on traffic levels. Of this figure, the Shuttle carried 22,648 lorries, against 22,580 in March.

The number of high-speed Eurostar passenger trains through the tunnel rose to 542 in April from 506 the month before. Freight train traffic fell from 432 to 404, which could be attributed at least in part to the holidays.

Eurotunnel described the figures as encouraging, but will want to see figures for all four of its services increase dramatically over the next few months. The company has warned that this summer is make or break for the project.

Richard Hannah, analyst at UBS, estimated that April's tourist figure of 96,735 vehicles, with an average 2.5 people per car, projected out over the year would give a figure of 2.9 million people, against Eurotunnel's forecast of 11 million.

The shares rose 9p to 196p.