Increased passenger numbers on Eurostar thanks to the Rugby World Cup helped to push up the third-quarter earnings of Groupe Eurotunnel
, the Channel Tunnel operator, in a boost to the recently-restructured group.
Eurostar, the cross-Channel high-speed train operator which is separate from Eurotunnel
, carried 2.23m passengers through the tunnel between July and September, up 4 per cent from 2.15m in the same period last year.
Although Eurostar's passenger numbers had been growing all year at about 4 per cent, Jacques Gounon, Eurotunnel
's executive chairman, insisted the quarter's growth was boosted by sharp peaks at weekends during rugby union's world championship, which started in France on September 7. Eurotunnel
's cross-Channel car shuttle trains had also benefited, even though car shuttle growth slowed to 5 per cent over the same quarter last year after running at 9 per cent year-on-year for the whole of the year's first nine months.
The competition's final this Saturday, between South Africa and England, is expected to provide a further boost to revenues both from Eurostar and shuttle services.
"In the month of September, compared with a normal month, it's plus 30, 40 per cent, sometimes plus 60 per cent if England are playing," Mr Gounon said.
's earnings from Eurostar passengers and cross-Channel rail freight trains rose to €70.1m (£49m) from €65.5m. However, rail revenues from the previous third quarter included a further €22.8m top-up under the minimum user charge (MUC) arrangements, which expired at the end of last November.
The MUC arrangement, with the British government and SNCF, the French national train operator, guaranteed Eurotunnel
revenue equivalent to about 10m Eurostar passengers and 5m tonnes of freight annually for the first 12 years of operation.
As a result, total revenues - including third-party rail revenues, revenues from Eurotunnel
's own truck and car shuttle operations, and other income such as property rentals - fell from €221m last time to €214m.
The looming end of the MUC period helped to push Eurotunnel
last year to seek France's equivalent of the US's Chapter 11 protection from creditors last year.
The company has just completed a restructuring that will cut its burden of debt by £2.13bn to £4.05bn.
Freight volumes through the tunnel - which have been in particularly sharp decline since the end of the MUC arrangements resulted in price increases - fell to 278,612 tonnes for the period, from 371,910 tonnes last time.
Revenue from shuttle services rose from €129m to €141m, mainly because of a 12 per cent increase in the number of trucks carried to 343,919.
The figures mean the first nine months' revenues for Groupe Eurotunnel
- now an entirely French company, rather than a joint British/French company, as it was before the restructuring - are ?587m, down from €622m last year.
Shares in Eurotunnel
fell €0.02 in Paris Thurday to €0.34.