Eurotunnel sees 12% drop in car traffic but lorries on track

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The Independent Online

Eurotunnel said yesterday that fuel blockades, poor weather and the abolition of duty-free sales has led to a sharp fall in cars using the Channel Tunnel.

Eurotunnel said yesterday that fuel blockades, poor weather and the abolition of duty-free sales has led to a sharp fall in cars using the Channel Tunnel.

Reporting revenue and traffic figures for the three months to the end of September, the company revealed a 12 per cent drop in cars passing through the tunnel during the quarter, to 750,000 vehicles.

The company said that blockades in Calais in August and September, as well as the recent fuel shortages in France and the UK, had affected tunnel traffic. It added that poor weather also contributed to a reduction in travel to France for summer holidays.

Eurotunnel said the figures, compared with the third quarter of last year, showed that consumers continued to fall away because the attraction of duty- free shopping was gone - even though it had already been abolished in this period last year.

The loss of duty-free meant that prices to transport cars were raised in order to compensate for lost revenue, further reducing traffic. Eurotunnel runs the car and truck shuttle trains itself, while Eurostar operates the passenger-only trains.

Patrick Ponsolle, Eurotunnel chairman, said: "The adjustment of the cross Channel market post duty-free abolition is continuing. The global passenger market had contracted more than anticipated, but ... [our] promotional activity should enable it to be rebuilt from this low level."

Mr Ponsolle said: "The truck market is very dynamic and our leadership position continues to build thanks to our strategy of accelerating the development of our freight shuttle business. Overall, Eurotunnel's recovery remains on track."

Eurotunnel said it remained the market leader, with a 48 per cent market share.

By contrast, the market for shuttling trucks grew "vigorously" during the third quarter, with a 31 per cent increase to 272,000 lorries. The improvement took Eurotunnel's market share to 46 per cent. Two years ago, the company said that it wanted to double its truck capacity by 2003. Analysts said this would become the biggest part of Eurotunnel's business in future.

For the group, operating revenue in the third quarter edged up 4 per cent to £145.1m, on the back of a 9 per cent rise in turnover from car and truck shuttles to £83.6m. Railways revenue, the carriage charge that Eurotunnel takes from other companies to use tunnel, such as the Eurostar train operator, were down 2 per cent at £51.4m.

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