Rising numbers of business travellers and the lure of a direct train from London to the south of France have boosted revenues at Eurostar.
The cross-Channel rail service, which marked its 20th anniversary in 2014, sold £867m of tickets during the year – 1 per cent more than in the previous 12 months.
Eurostar said yesterday that passenger numbers increased thanks to “the strong recovery in the UK economy, which led to an increase in business travel bookings throughout the year”. Four per cent more business travellers used the line last year, while the total number of people who have used the service since its launch in 1994 passed 150 million. Pre-tax profits, however, slipped last year as it splashed out on a new fleet of 200mph “e320” trains that will slash journey times from London to Paris.
Eurostar is investing £1bn and will introduce 17 new trains over the next three years and high-speed routes beyond its traditional destinations, including a year-round direct service to southern France, stopping in Lyon, Avignon and Marseille, from May.
Nicolas Petrovic, the chief executive, said ticket sales had “got off to a cracking start” and 2014 had been “a pivotal year for our business”. He added: “Our new e320 trains are now in the final months of testing and on schedule to come into commercial service at the end of this year.”
The news has not been all good for Eurostar in recent months. Services were suspended when a lorry caught fire in a cross-Channel tunnel and thousands of passengers were inconvenienced.
Last year, the British government put its 40 per cent stake in Eurostar up for sale, with bankers at UBS understood to be looking to raise as much as £500m.
Strong interest is expected from Canadian pension funds, other foreign and domestic pension funds, and cash-rich sovereign wealth funds such as those of Norway and Singapore. Insiders have also named Germany’s Deutsche Bahn as a possible trade buyer.
The French state-owned rail operator SNCF, which holds 55 per cent of Eurostar, ruled itself out of the bidding process last year.Reuse content