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Insurance to cover cost of tunnel fire

The tunnel fire
The tunnel fire

Insurance payouts will cover most of the losses caused by fire damage that closed part of the Channel Tunnel.

The north-running bore from France to Cheriton was shut for five months - from September 11 to February 9 - after a fire, thought to be on a lorry, forced a freight shuttle from Coquelles to stop and safely evacuate more than 30 drivers and crew.

Eurotunnel, which declared a dividend for the first time in 20 years, said it was insured against operating losses and repairs up to £800m, and only had to pay a £9m excess.

The closure halved passenger and freight shuttle capacity, but only depressed shuttle revenues by seven per cent.

Eurotunnel said it had given priority to customers with contracts and kept a fall in the number of trucks carried during the fourth quarter of 2008 to 45 per cent, compared to a capacity reduction of 50 per cent.

Overall, truck shuttle traffic fell by 11 per cent across the year. Car traffic using the passenger shuttles fell by 37 per cent in the fourth quarter, with an annual dip of 11 per cent.

Railway revenue rose by seven per cent, thanks to an increase in the number of Eurostar passengers following the opening of St Pancras International and Ebbsfleet International stations.

Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel is to pay shareholders a dividend for the first time in 20 years after announcing a profit of £35 million.

It is the first dividend in the company’s history and will please its 500,000 shareholders, mainly French but including 85,000 in the UK. The company will pay them four cents (3.56p) for every euro share they own.

Eurotunnel defied the impact of the fire to post annual profits of £35.6m on turnover of £665.7m. The company made a trading profit of £232m, up nine per cent on 2007.

Its operating margin - earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) - increased to £375m. In 2007, financial restructuring reduced Eurotunnel’s debt from £8.17bn to £5.2bn.

Jacques Gounon, chief executive, said: "Despite the indicent in September, the year 2008 clearly marks the end of financial uncertainty for Eurotunnel. Through its efficiency and the control of its costs, the Group has recorded a solid porift which, for the first time in our history, allows us to pay a dividend to our loyal shareholders."

Meanwhile, the French Government has paid Eurotunnel £21m as compensation for damage to its business by illegal immigrants based at Sangatte and aiming to make it to the UK. Talks are underway with the British Government over a similar claim.

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