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High-speed rail opens in Channel Tunnel

(The Associated Press distributed the following article on September 28.)

LONDON -- Eurostar passengers had their first taste of high-speed rail travel in Britain as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link opened to the public Sunday, shaving 20 minutes off the trip from London to Paris and Brussels, Belgium.

Prime Minister Tony Blair officially opened the 46 new miles of track Sept. 16, but the line had remained closed to paying passengers.

``Our service is getting much better with this line,'' said Paul Charles, a spokesman for Eurostar.

Eurostar has been struggling with falling revenues and ridership -- the number of passengers it carried through the English Channel tunnel fell from 3.2 million in the first half of 2002 to 2.8 million in the same period this year. Executives hope the new fast track will lure many of those customers back.

Many trains arrived at their destinations early on Sunday, and they were about 95 percent full, Charles said.

Eurostar launched a new advertising campaign to coincide with the opening, and is offering some round trips from London to Paris for 59 pounds ($92).

The 1.9 billion pound ($3 billion) track lets trains travel at 186 mph from Fawkham junction east of London to the Channel tunnel. Before, Eurostar trains, sharing tracks with commuter trains, were restricted to an average of 60 mph.

In France and Belgium, high-speed tracks were completed several years ago, making the journey from London to Paris just under three hours, and to Brussels 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The newly opened section of track will take 20 minutes off those travel times. An additional section of track running from London's Waterloo station to Kent, due to open in 2007, will shorten the time by another 15 minutes.

Monday, September 29, 2003

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