Eurostar, the company that runs passenger trains through the Channel tunnel between London and Paris, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with the launch of 17 new trains. As Ciara Lee reports it's part of a £1bln expansion plan.
The Queen launched the service in 1994. Since then Eurostar has transported 150 million passengers between London, Paris and Brussels. It's marking the anniversary with a 1 billion pound overhaul, and a new fleet. SOUNDBITE (English) REUTERS REPORTER CIARA LEE, SAYING: "Eurostar are launching this new train and it's the first new fleet since they began 20 years ago. Unlike others it's more adapted to other European lines, showing the company's expansion plans are going full steam ahead." Eurostar's profits have grown year-on-year for the past 10 years and the new e320s are designed to carry 20 percent more passengers. The company's success comes despite years of recession during the euro zone debt crisis. Nicolas Petrovic is Chief Executive. SOUNDBITE (English) EUROSTAR CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NICOLAS PETROVIC, SAYING: "When it started 20 years ago there was a lot of scepticism. A lot of people said do we need a train at all, we've got flights, we've got everything. We had to fight very hard to get market share. And it's been a long journey. We've been to new markets. For instance China, the U.S, Australia, Japan, Brazil. We've been marketing Eurostar over there as one of the key attractions of going to Europe." Eurostar is 55 percent owned by the French state rail operator SNCF and 40 percent by the British government. Last month the UK announced its plans to sell-off its portion in a deal that could raise 300 million pounds. Eurostar paid an 18.6 million pound dividend last year, of which 7.4 million went to the British government. The new trains built by Siemens can travel at 320 km per hour and will be part of Eurostar's new routes to Lyon, Avignon, and Marseille. Steve Steve Scrimshaw is Head of the UK Mobility Division at Siemens. SOUNDBITE (English) HEAD OF MOBILITY DIVISION UK AT SIEMENS, STEVE SCRIMSHAW, SAYING: "This is the right time to improve connectivity between the UK and mainland Europe. I think it's going to be good not only for business but also for passengers as well." With plans to also run direct services to Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Schipol in 2016, the company has no intention of applying the brakes any time soon. But some say longer routes could see passengers opting to fly instead and Eurosport will need to be competitive on price to win business.