A 4% rise in business travellers helped push up Eurostar’s operating profit by 2% in 2014 to £55 million.

Overall carryings by the high-speed Channel Tunnel rail service rose by 3% to 10.4 million with sales revenues up by 1% to £867 million.

The performance was underpinned by the strong  recovery in the UK economy which also led to an increase in business travel bookings throughout the year, the company said.

Eurostar reported a “strong response” since tickets went on sale in December for a new year-round direct service to the South of France stopping in Lyon, Avignon and Marseille which starts on May 1.

Chief executive Nicolas Petrovic said: “Ticket sales for our new South of France service have got off to a cracking start, demonstrating, once again, the enduring popularity of the region and the growing appetite among passengers for choosing high speed rail over plane for travel further into mainland Europe.”

Reviewing last year, he said: “2014 was a pivotal year for our business as we celebrated our 20th anniversary and unveiled our new fleet.

“Our new e320 trains are now in the final months of testing and on schedule to come into commercial service at the end of this year.

“As we introduce new trains, upgrade our stations and invest in our service, passengers can look forward to a complete transformation of their travel experience.”

Eurostar is spending more than £1 billion in its fleet and service and will introduce 17 new trains over the next three years.

The 900-passenger Eurostar e320 trains will boost capacity per train by 20% and be capable of a speed of 200 mph.