Record-breaking festive period for Eurostar

IMPROVEMENT: Eurostar appears in much better shape than 18 months ago
IMPROVEMENT: Eurostar appears in much better shape than 18 months ago
A record number of passengers used Ashford International Station
A record number of passengers used Ashford International Station

FASTER speeds through Kent have boosted the number of passengers using Eurostar trains to record levels.

The high-speed service enjoyed its busiest Christmas and New Year since it was launched 10 years ago.

A quarter of a million passengers over the festive period took the total number of passengers carried in 2004 to 7.27 million, up 15 per cent on 2003. And a record number of people used Ashford International Station.

Punctuality rates were at an all time high, up by almost 11 per cent to 89.2 per cent, while sales went up by 15 per cent to a record £433m.

The first set of full-year results since the opening of section one of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link between Folkestone and Fawkham Junction in North Kent on September 28, 2003, revealed a marked improvement in Eurostar's performance.

While passenger numbers are still well short of the optimistic forecasts of 10 years ago, the situation is much healthier than it was 18 months ago.

Eurostar spokesman Gareth Headon paid tribute to the new dedicated line, saying that high-speed trains no longer had to share track with the congested domestic network. This had led to excellent punctuality performance and increased passenger numbers.

Eurostar has made startling inroads into the airline business, capturing 68 per cent of the London-Paris market and 63 per cent of the London-Brussels market in its best-performing month.

British Airways abandoned its London Gatwick-Paris service last year, partly because of competition from Eurostar. "We are taking passengers off the airlines," Mr Headon said. He also singled out a new strategy for business travellers, saying it had prompted an 18.5 per cent increase in UK business sales.

He confirmed that Ashford International recorded its busiest year, with a record number of passengers using the station. But he declined to spell out precise numbers. A total of 61 million people have travelled on Eurostar since its first service in November 1994.

Paul Charles, director of communications, said: "Eurostar has set new, higher standards for short-haul carriers over the last year. These record figures prove that business and leisure travellers have recognised the transformation in our service.

"We are not seeing customers downgrade or switch to low-cost airlines - they are choosing to travel in high-speed comfort and style by train. In 2005, we will invest more in our onboard product, in a climate where many airline competitors are investing less in their short-haul service."

Eurostar is spending £25m on a facelift for its fleet of 27 trains. Some have already been refurbished, with the rest due to be completed by the summer.

In 2007, Eurostar will move services from Waterloo to its new home at St Pancras International. The second section of the CTRL from North West Kent to St Pancras, and Ebbsfleet International Station, between Gravesend and Dartford, are also due to open.

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