Eurostar boosted by rail 'renaissance'

Cross-channel operator reports 3% growth in passenger numbers and higher revenues despite recent winter mayhem

Eurostar claimed the arrival of a "renaissance" in rail travel today as it reported a 3% growth in passenger numbers despite the pre-Christmas snow disruption.

The cross-Channel operator carried 9.5 million people last year, up from 9.2 million in 2009 when the business also managed to increase its customer base despite a previous disastrous brush with the winter elements. Eurostar does not reveal profit figures, but revenues rose 12% to £760m thanks to a recovery in the higher-paying business market and the growing preference for rail over air when travelling from London to Paris and Brussels. The service already accounts for three-quarters of the air-rail market between London and the French and Belgian capitals.

Nicolas Petrovic, Eurostar's chief executive, said customers were "increasingly keen" to explore new destinations by rail. "This is an exciting time for our passengers and our industry. With the expansion of new routes and services we are witnessing a real renaissance in rail travel," he said.

However, international spats could halt the expansion, and competition, trumpeted by Petrovic. The French government and Alstom, a French engineering company, are objecting to Eurostar's planned acquisition of a new train designed by Germany's Siemens on safety grounds. Deutsche Bahn, the German state rail operator, wants to use the same train design for a planned cross-Channel Frankfurt-to-London service and the safety row could threaten this.

Eurostar's results followed the setback of a second successive year of pre-Christmas snow disruption, accompanied by embarrassing scenes of the Salvation Army handing out refreshments to thousands of stranded passengers outside London's St Pancras station. During the worst disruption, the Eurostar queue stretched for hundreds of metres outside the station.

Eurostar, which is majority-owned by SNCF, the French national rail operator, blamed the delays and cancellations on a combination of broken-down trains – including two of its own and one operated by a rival service – and self-imposed speed restrictions due to the winter weather. In 2009 the business suffered a public relations disaster when almost 2,000 people were trapped in the Channel Tunnel overnight after melting snow leaked into train engines.


Dan Milmo, transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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