MTR passenger numbers rose 8.19 per cent to 833.54 million last year as the corporation recovered from the havoc caused by Sars in 2003. The recovery was also reflected in MTR Corp's Airport Express rail service, patronage of which soared 17 per cent to 8.01 million passengers last year. But some analysts said the growth on the urban rail lines was weaker than they had anticipated and, as a result, downgraded their forecast for MTR's earnings. Credit Suisse First Boston yesterday lowered its profit forecast by 0.3 per cent to 0.4 per cent for the three financial years to 2006 and its target price to $10.50 from $10.75. The stock closed yesterday 1.26 per cent higher at $12.05. 'It may look good on the face of it but be reminded that in the second quarter of 2003, patronage was depressed by Sars ... MTR's full-year patronage growth was a touch below our estimate of 8.5 per cent,' the brokerage wrote in its latest research report. CSFB's revised profit forecast stood at $3.59 billion for last year, in line with a Thomson First Call consensus of $3.58 billion. However, the brokerage's forecast of a $3.25 billion net profit this year is below a market consensus of $3.89 billion. On an average weekday, the five MTR urban rail lines carried a total of 2.51 million passengers last month, up 12.05 per cent year on year. Overnight train services on the eves of Christmas and New Year were the major reason behind the increase, MTR said. The Airport Express saw a more remarkable rise, with average weekday passenger use of its trains jumping 24.21 per cent to 23,600 people last month. Despite the growth in volume, analysts said revenue increase would be lacklustre given MTR's frozen tariffs and fare promotions. The corporation charged an average $6.5 per ride in the first six months of last year.