Stowaways cost Eurotunnel £20m in lost freight revenues

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Eurotunnel lost £20m in revenues last year because of the disruption to freight services caused by asylum seekers attempting to enter Britain on board its shuttle trains.

The Anglo-French operator of the Channel Tunnel said yesterday that revenues overall were down by 6 per cent last year to £548m while passenger numbers on its shuttle service fell by 9 per cent.

Most of the reduction in revenues came from a decline in the use of Eurotunnel's subsea telecommunications cables as the telecoms sector suffered a sharp downturn in demand. But Eurotunnel was also hit by other external factors including the foot-and-mouth epidemic which hit visitor numbers to the UK. Revenues from non-transport activities were down by £30m or 57 per cent to £27m.

The stowaway crisis reached its height over Christmas after French troops were called in to round up more than 100 asylum seekers from a refugee camp in Sangatte who stormed the tunnel in a bid to walk to Britain. Last week a refugee in his twenties was electrocuted after attempting to board a UK-bound train at the French terminal.

Eurotunnel, which went back to court earlier this month in a renewed attempt to get the Sangatte centre closed down, said that the problem of stowaways had "seriously disrupted" freight services since the spring.

Despite this, freight shuttle traffic grew by 6 per cent last year. Richard Shirrefs, the new chief executive of Eurotunnel, said it had made significant progress in three key areas over the past few months by limiting the impact of stowaways, raising freight tariffs and growing its core passenger market.

The number of cars using the shuttle fell by 9 per cent to 2.53 million against a decline in the overall cross-Channel market of 6 per cent. Passenger numbers on Eurostar through trains were down by 3 per cent at 6.95 million but Eurotunnel revenues remained constant at £211m because of the minimum usage deal it has with the UK, French and Belgian railways. The volume of freight carried on through trains was down by a much steeper 17 per cent.