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Eurotunnel buys British rail freight operator for £31m

Channel Tunnel operator acquires UK's third-largest rail freight operator.

The Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel has bought the UK's third-largest rail freight operator First GBRf (formerly GB Railfreight) from transport giant FirstGroup for £31m.

The French-controlled firm's acquisition of the British company marks its build up of a significant Franco-British freight train business to meet expected growth in demand.

Eurotunnel said it will merge its existing French freight subsidiary Europorte with GBRf, allowing it to offer a freight service on both sides of the Channel Tunnel.

Chief executive Jacques Gounon said the deal was "a further expression of our commitment to the UK" which has seen growth of 4 per cent a year in the segment before the recession.

FirstGroup, which runs buses in the UK and four rail franchises, acquired GBRf in 2003. It put the business on sale this year to bring down the debts associated with its move into the US school bus market.

GBRf employs around 300 staff and generated annual revenues of over £56m last year.