Eurostar customer growth to halve this year

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The Independent Online

Eurostar, the operator of Channel Tunnel rail services between London, Paris and Brussels, warned yesterday that it expected passenger growth to fall by more than a half this year.

The train operator, which is jointly owned by British Airways, National Express and the state-owned French and Belgian railways, said that traffic numbers grew by only 3 per cent in the first six months of the year to 3.9 million while revenues increased by 5 per cent to £226m. This compared with passenger growth of 10 per cent and a revenue increase of 12 per cent in the same period last year.

David Azéma, chairman of Eurostar, blamed the first-half slowdown on the global economic downturn, rail strikes and the foot-and-mouth outbreak. He said he expected the growth rate in the second six months to be broadly the same as the first six.

Despite the slower growth, Mr Azéma said Eurostar was still on course to achieve a break-even point by the end of 2003. He also said that the service had increased its share of passengers on the London-Paris route by 2.2 percentage points to 63.5 per cent and its share of the London-Brussels route by 3.2 percentage points to 47 per cent.

Eurostar has about 80 per cent of the tourist market on the two routes to the Continent but a much smaller share of the business traveller market. However, Mr Azéma said that when the first phase of the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link came into service in 2003, shaving 20 minutes off journey times, it would lift Eurostar's share of the all-important business market to above 50 per cent.

The company is also investing £35m on upgrades of its trains and terminal facilities at London Waterloo and Paris Gare du Nord, aimed largely at attracting more business-class passengers.