Eurotunnel in row over cross-Channel trade

Tunnel operator's claim to market share attacked as fiction

Eurotunnel, the Channel tunnel operator, increased the pressure on ferry companies last month with the number of passengers using its Le Shuttle service reaching record levels.

But the claimed 22.5 per cent rise in traffic was still far below the company's own forecasts, and will increase concern among its bankers as they prepare for another round of talks about Eurotunnel's pounds 8bn of debts. Ferry companies reacted with astonishment to figures, with P&O calling Eurotunnel's claim to have captured 33 per cent of the cross-Channel market "complete fiction".

Le Shuttle carried 112,060 cars in July, and 2,402 coaches, achieving a daily traffic record of 4,965 cars on 29 July. But Eurotunnel counts each coach as equivalent to five cars. This allows Eurotunnel to claim a total car equivalent of 124,070 cars month, a 22.5 per cent rise on June. Le Shuttle freight trains did better, carrying 37,126 lorries in July, 13.7 per cent more than in June.

P&O said the way Eurotunnel calculated its tourist figures was absurd. A spokesman said: "Either you took cars or you took coaches. Ferry companies do not attempt to flatter their figures in this way."

He said Eurotunnel's claim to have taken more than one-third of the Dover- Calais market in July was not borne out by the figures published yesterday by cross-Channel operators.

According to its calculations P&O had 40.4 per cent of the market, Stena 13.6 per cent, SNAT 13.6 per cent, Hoverspeed 6.4 per cent and Eurotunnel 26 per cent. Competition for business has been fierce, with passengers benefiting from a string of cut price deals. But, as our table shows, Le Shuttle is among the most expensive ways to cross the Channel.

The Dover-Calais market has grown by about 20 per cent, and the ferry companies believe the bulk of Le Shuttle passengers have been absorbed by that increase. P&O carried 177,659 cars and 12,998 coaches on its Dover- Calais route in July, marginally down on the same month in 1994. Last year Eurotunnel was working on forecasts that it would achieve a rate of 6,800 cars a day for 1995, carrying an estimated 11 million passengers.

Michael Cohen, an analyst with Salomon Brothers, called July's figures disappointing. "They are going to have to make a real effort to get the tourist figures up for next year."

City analysts have long felt that Eurotunnel would not meet these forecasts, and are looking to what the company might say about next year's estimates when they meet bankers in the autumn. The negotiations are about the banks agreeing loans to finance the company beyond October, without which Eurotunnel will collapse and probably be taken over by the banking syndicate.

Meanwhile, the high-speed Eurostar train service had a good month, despite breakdowns, including one this week involving members of the Saudi royal family.

The total number trains from London to Paris and Brussels was 851, compared with 730 in June. This took the Eurostar total so far this year to 3,952.

Dover-Calais for two adults and two children

Prices for Friday to Sunday this weekend.

P and O pounds 92: Tariff D depart Friday 01.00-05.45 or 23.00-23.59

return Sunday 01.00-09.45 or 22.00-23.15

pounds 120: Tariff C depart Friday 06.30-08.00 or 17.45-22.15

return Sunday 11.45-13.30 or 20.15-21.45

pounds 135.20: Tariff B depart Friday 08.45-17.00

return Sunday 14.15-18.45

Sealink pounds 122: depart 07.00-19.00

pounds 91: depart 21.00-07.00

Hoverspeed pounds 169: depart 06.00-07.00/19.00-21.00

pounds 188: depart 07.00-19.00/21.00-06.00

Eurotunnel pounds 169: depart 06.00-18.00

pounds 115: depart 18.00-06.00

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