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More delays on new Eurostar services

Plans by London & Continental, the company which now runs the Eurostar trains, to operate services north of London have been delayed until at least next Easter and possibly longer because of technical problems.

And there are mounting doubts about whether many of the promised services will ever be introduced. L&C, which is a consortium of eight companies including Virgin and National Express, said last night that it hoped to start operating services from Manchester and Birmingham to Paris by next spring and services on the East Coast Main Line by the summer.

The trains had been due to start operating early this year but there have been a series of delays due to the testing of the rolling stock. The latest has been caused by concerns that electric sparks from the pantographs which receive currents from the overhead wires cause the trains to stop. Apparently, the sparks are picked up by the device which ensures that no stray electric current is interfering with the signalling system. This brings the train to a halt until an engineer can override the safety mechanism.

A similar problem caused several months' delay to the start of Eurostar services two years ago. Railtrack says it has already spent pounds 140m on improvements for the train and it is up to L&C to find a solution to the problem.

Plans to introduce night services between various provincial towns in the UK and France, Holland and Germany, have also been delayed until 1998 at the earliest. Services to be introduced include London to Amsterdam, taking 10 hours, and Swansea to Paris, taking 11 hours.

The long-term future of both night and north of London services is also in doubt.