Paris tickets on Channel tunnel trains start at pounds 95

FARES to Paris and Brussels will start at pounds 95 return when a regular train service through the Channel tunnel starts on 14 November.

First-class travellers on the new Eurostar services, which will connect London with the two capitals, will pay pounds 195 return, which will include a meal, while the standard fare will be pounds 155. People booking 14 days in advance will qualify for the pounds 95 fare but they will not have to stay a Saturday night as airlines require for similar Apex fares.

While pounds 95 is more than some special fares offered by the airlines, which start between pounds 83 and pounds 89 depending on the day of travel, Eurostar points out that air travel will cost an extra pounds 5 from next month when airport tax is introduced, and that existing taxes cost nearly pounds 10 to Brussels and pounds 2 to Paris. Add in about pounds 7 for the fares from city centres to airports, and the pounds 95 compares well with air fares.

There will be four trains a day in each direction, one to and from each capital morning and evening, giving people the chance to take day trips. The journey to Paris will take three hours; reaching Brussels will take 15 minutes longer. All travellers will be given reservations on the 800-seater trains and the reservation service will start on 24 October.

The long-awaited announcement of fares surprised the travel industry with relatively high prices for leisure travellers and unexpectedly cheap first-class travel. Keith Betton, spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents, said: 'I think they are taking advantage of the limited number of trains at the beginning and the fact that demand will be high because of curiosity value.'

At the launch of the service yesterday, Richard Edgley, managing director of European Passenger Services, the British arm of Eurostar, said fares would be revised once a full service was being offered. However, no decision had yet been taken on whether they would go up or down.

Mr Betton suggested that the cheapest fare was likely to be reduced: 'They've got an enormous battle on with the airlines,' he said. 'Whether you go by air or by train depends so much on where you live. If you are in west London, Heathrow is an easy option, but if you are in central London, the train will have obvious attractions.'

In the opening period, which will last until early next year, Eurostar will operate only from Sunday evenings to Friday evenings as the tunnel is closed for most of the weekend for continued commissioning. The service will gradually build up to around 30 trains per day, giving a roughly hourly service to each capital.

Eurotunnel suffers, page 30 ---------------------------------------------------------------- LONDON-PARIS RETURN FARES ---------------------------------------------------------------- Eurostar British British Air Air Midland Airways UK France pounds pounds pounds pounds pounds Cheapest fare* 95 87 83 89 83 Standard/economy** 155 197 197 197 197 First class 195 245 318 270 318 *All airlines have restrictions which require a Saturday night stay, pre-booking and no changes, and depend on availability. Eurostar requires booking 14 days in advance.

**No restrictions.