Eurostar has achieved record traveller numbers and ticket sales in 2008 thanks to improved journey times and a more accessible London terminus.
Much of the growth was attributed to the opening in November 2007 of the second section of High Speed 1, the UK’s first dedicated high-speed rail line.
The collapse of sterling also gave the high-speed train operator an extra boost, as shoppers from Paris and Brussels flocked to London last month in search of bargains.Passenger numbers broke the nine million barrier for the first time with 9.1 million travellers - an increase of 10.3% from 8.26 million in the previous year.
Ticket sales also reached a record level of £664 million, rising by 10.9% from £599 million in 2007. Shorter journey times to Paris and Brussels and the excellent connections offered by St Pancras International are attracting increasing numbers of passengers to switch to high-speed rail.
The results would have been significantly stronger but for the closure of part of the Channel Tunnel following a fire on board a Eurotunnel freight shuttle on 11 September 2008, which continues to cause reductions in services and longer journey times.
The nature of the Eurostar service, in which travellers book up to four months in advance, means sales were significantly affected by the Channel Tunnel incident from September onwards, whereas the subsequent economic downturn had little impact on the year as a whole.
Eurostar continues to achieve high levels of punctuality that outstrip the airline competition, with 92.4% of trains arriving on time or early during 2008. In contrast, the latest available UK arrival/departure punctuality figure for airlines competing on Eurostar’s routes is just 65.4% (Jan - Nov 2008, data from Civil Aviation Authority).
Richard Brown, Chief Executive, Eurostar, said: “An increase of nearly a million extra passengers using High Speed 1 during its first year of operations, even with the impact of the tunnel fire, demonstrates beyond doubt that people prefer high-speed rail to short-haul air. They are switching because rail journeys are faster, more punctual, more convenient, and have less environmental impact.
“Whilst reduced tunnel access will affect the first quarter of 2009, we expect to return to a full timetable in the early spring with journey times restored to 1h 51 to Brussels and 2h 15 to Paris once Eurotunnel completes repairs to the Channel Tunnel.
“The uncertainties of the current economic climate reinforce the importance of good value fares and Eurostar’s UK lead-in fare remains at £59 return for the sixth year in a row.
“The short-term outlook for 2009 is challenging, but the long-term prospects for Eurostar and high-speed rail are very good. High Speed 1 is fully connected into Europe’s fast expanding high-speed network and we expect to see continuing growth in the number of travellers making longer connecting journeys from towns and cities across the UK to Belgium and France, as well as to destinations in the Netherlands and Germany.”