Eurostar joins price war with pounds 76 Paris return

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The Independent Online
Eurostar yesterday reacted to cut-price cross-Channel air fares by announcing cheap autumn returns to both Brussels and Paris.

The train operator is launching an autumn return fare, which must include a Saturday stay, of pounds 69 return to Brussels and pounds 76 to Paris. Tickets do not have to be purchased in advance and Richard Edgley, managing director of EPS, which runs the Eurostar trains, said: "There will be plenty of seats available at these fares."

Eurostar is also increasing the number of trains to both destinations. From 24 September there will be an extra service to both destinations, bringing the number of daily trains up to 10 to Paris and 6 to Brussels, with an extra service to Paris on Fridays. Paris will also get an extra train in October and another on 8 January, aimed at business travellers, with a departure time of 6.19am.

Ashford international station is also due to open on that day, with about one-third of the trains stopping there. Mr Edgley said it would be particularly convenient for people driving to the station as there will be a large car park, unlike at Waterloo where there is very limited space.

The fares are still marginally more than British Airways' World Offer fare of pounds 59 to Paris, but as the train goes from city centre to city centrethe difference is ultimately marginal. The BA fare is also only available for travel in November on a "limited number of services" - the more widely available fare to Paris is pounds 81. To Brussels, BA's World Offer is pounds 59 and the more widely available fare is pounds 77.

While it is reducing fares for leisure travellers, Eurostar has decided to increase its first-class fares, aimed at business customers, from pounds 195 return to pounds 220. EPS says that this is still very competitive with the fully flexible business class airline fares of about pounds 300 and it is introducing "leisure first" return fares of pounds 185 to Paris and pounds 175 to Brussels which must include a Saturday night stay. The fully flexible second class is pounds 155 return.

Eurostar has so far carried two million passengers through the tunnel and claims that its market share will reach 50 per cent for the Paris route by early next year. However, it has suffered from bad publicity arising from breakdowns and Mr Edgley admitted it is still suffering from teething problems. He said that two-thirds of trains were on time and between 85 per cent and 90 per cent arrive within 15 minutes of the expected arrival time.

Mr Edgley said yesterday: "Our trains are still under warranty and there are bound to be early problems, but we are bedding down well." More than pounds 2m has been handed out in free tickets to passengers whose trains arrive more than 30 minutes late.

Eurostar is also introducing a parcels service between London and the two capitals which it claims will be the fastest service available on the route.