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The BBC's Jon Sopel
"Night time in Calais is when the illegal immigrants break cover"
 real 56k

Monday, 19 February, 2001, 18:39 GMT
Eurotunnel urges immigrant curbs
Freight train emerging from the Channel Tunnel
Freight traffic has boosted revenues at Eurotunnel
Eurotunnel has called for urgent government action to stem the growing tide of illegal immigrants attempting to walk to Britain through the Channel Tunnel.

The company, which operates the rail tunnel between France and the UK, warned that up to 1,000 people are gathering every night near the Calais entrance.

Attempts by immigrants to walk through the tunnel, which has electrified rails, has disrupted services and put staff at risk, the company said.

Government action was needed to back up Eurotunnel's "multiple and repeated" efforts to control the immigrants, the firm said in a briefing which revealed it had slipped back into the red last year.

Urgent help

"We very much hope that the British and French authorities will themselves take the necessary measures to curtail this phenomenon as a matter of urgency," the company's statement said.

Group finance director Richard Shirrefs said: "If we catch [the immigrants] they just turn round and try to go back again."

The firm blamed a profits slide in 2000 on a debt shake-up which had unduly boosted the headline 1999 figure.

While Eurotunnel ran up a pre-tax loss of 124m last year, compared with a profit of 202.1m in 1999, the company's underlying performance had actually improved, said executive chairman Patrick Ponsolle.

Paying for itself

For the first time in the company's history, the amount of money it received from tunnel users exceeded the amount of interest it had to pay on its debt.

"In very simple terms, for the first time, 'the tunnel is paying for the tunnel'," said Mr Ponsolle.

Higher charges to motorists using Eurotunnel's car shuttle services, and strong growth in freight services, contributed to the firm's improved performance.

The company also developed the use of the tunnel as a route for telecoms cables to help offset the loss of profits from retail operations, hit by the 1999 reform of duty free shopping in the EU.

Future earnings would be supported by rail promotion policies, and the construction of the high-speed feeder line to the tunnel from London, Mr Ponsolle said.

"The completion of the first stage of the rail link between Folkestone and London planned for 2003, and the determination of the European governments to double intra-European rail freight traffic, should at last lead to an increase in railway revenues."

Chairman resigns

Mr Ponsolle also announced his resignation, after seven years at Eurotunnel, to "take a different position in a different field".

He will be succeeded as chairman by Charles Mackay, his current deputy, with managing director Philippe Lazare becoming chief executive.

In the City, Eurotunnel shares closed 0.75p down at 68.25p on Monday.

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See also:

20 Nov 00 | Business
Eurotunnel drivers on strike
09 Feb 01 | Europe
UK and France strike asylum deal
24 Jul 00 | Business
Duty free hits Eurotunnel
15 Mar 99 | The Company File
Tunnel vision: the Eurotunnel story
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Eurotunnel's first profit
16 Jan 01 | Business
Eurostar revenue rises
15 Jan 01 | Business
Railtrack under pressure
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