Tunnel takes traffic off ferries

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The Independent Online
The call from P&O and Stena to allow co-operation on their cross-channel routes was vindicated yesterday by figures from Eurotunnel showing the channel tunnel continued to take market share from the ferries in July.

Eurotunnel said a record number of vehicles used its Le Shuttle rail service between France and Britain last month. The group, which is embroiled in bitter talks with its banks to ease its debt burden, said its share of the market had risen from 40 per cent at the beginning of the year to 44 per cent.

There was also a big increase in the number of passengers using Eurostar train services, which are operated by other companies but use the channel tunnel. The high-speed trains linking Belgium, France and Britain were used by 529,330 people in July, up from 308,027 in the same month in 1995, a 72 per cent rise.

Eurotunnel's Le Shuttle trains saw an increase in the number of tourist vehicles using the tunnel from 112,060 to 234,393. There was also a rise in the number of trucks from 37,126 to 53,978, as the tunnel's share of the freight market rose to 45 per cent from 43 per cent in June and 40 per cent in May. There had been declines earlier in the year.

The figures from Eurotunnel underlined the ferry companies' need to rationalise their services across the channel. Last month P&O confirmed that the number of passengers on its short sea crossing to France had fallen from 4.8 million to 4.1 million in the first half-year.

That followed permission from the Government, after a long lobbying campaign, either to share ticketing arrangements with its rival Stena or actually discuss a full merger to create a new company operating both sets of ferries. No details of any possible tie-up have yet emerged.

Eurotunnel, which froze interest payments on FFr62bn (pounds 7.7bn) of bank loans last year, said last week it was making some progress in its negotiations.