Da Vinci Code cracks it for Eurostar

You may think it the most compelling page-turner ever written. You may, on the other hand, feel its plotline so clunking and its prose so turgid as to be unreadable. You may even regard it as a piece of blatant plagarism, as do two rival authors. But Eurostar, at least, has no doubts about the pulling power of The Da Vinci Code.

The cross-Channel train operator yesterday ascribed its record-breaking passenger performance last year in part to the Dan Brown potboiler about two sleuths scouring Paris for clues to the story of the secret child which Christ fathered with Mary Magdalene.

Paul Charles, Eurostar's director of communications, said there was clear evidence the "Da Vinci factor" had contributed to its 15 per cent increase in passenger numbers last year to just under 7.3 million. "Tour operators are telling us that passengers are travelling to Paris to visit some of the landmarks which feature in the book such as the Louvre and St Sulpice. More passengers are going to Paris because of this book. There is no doubt about it."

He said another factor behind last year's success, which also saw a 15 per cent increase in revenues to £433m, was the increase in the number of business travellers, attracted by shorter journey times and improved punctuality.

The opening of the first section of the dedicated Channel Tunnel Rail Link between Folkestone and St Pancras station in central London has shaved 20 minutes off the journey time to both Brussels and Paris and helped Eurostar to increase the proportion of trains running on time from 78 per cent to 89 per cent.

When the 68-mile link is fully operational in the first half of 2007, cutting a further 20 minutes from journey times, Eurostar believes it will burst into profit having lost hundreds of millions of pounds since the service was launched just over a decade ago.

The minimum usage charge which Eurostar pays the owner of the Channel Tunnel, Eurotunnel,will end in November 2006, saving the company some £40m a year.

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