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French turmoil gives boost to Le Shuttle

French transport strikes, discounts on duty-free goods and bad weather in the Channel made November the second most successful month for Eurotunnel's Le Shuttle service, writes Christian Wolmar.

The service carried nearly 130,000 cars, an increase of 7.4 per cent over the previous month and particularly pleasing for the company given that November would normally be a quiet month. Only August, when 135,000 cars went through the tunnel, exceeded November's total. The continuing strife in France is good news for the company and bad weather in the Channel has also been an important factor in making people choose the tunnel rather than ferries.

Heavy discounting also contributed to the heavy flow. Many travellers have taken advantage of pounds 29 return special offers to stock up on their duty-frees. Queues of one hour or more have been reported following Eurotunnel's decision earlier this autumn to cut duty-free prices by one-third. Around 12 per cent of customers are specifically travelling through the tunnel for the duty-free goods, a company spokesman said.

The discounting of fares means that the boom in passenger numbers through the tunnel is only mildly good news for the company's beleaguered shareholders but nevertheless shares rose by 4p on the news to 90p.