Eurostar cutbacks deliver blow to Ashford

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The Independent Online

Eurostar is set to close down its operations at Ashford in Kent and delay the launch of services from its new station at Stratford, adjacent to the London Olympic site, for at least two years as part of a sweeping cost-cutting plan.

Details of the cutbacks are likely to emerge today when the cross-Channel train operator unveils its new station at Ebbsfleet in Kent on the route of the £5bn high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Eurostar staff were told yesterday that it intends to scrap all services from Ashford International to Brussels and cut the number of trains to Paris to just three a day.

The decision will come as a bitter blow to Kent and Ashford in particular, which has been designated as one of the Government's development towns with plans for 30,000 new homes in the area. The station cost about £100m to build.

Observers believe that services to Paris will also be phased out eventually as it will be uneconomic to keep the station open for just three trains a day.

The delay in launching services from Stratford represents a setback for a large part of east London.

Even though the station will be complete next year, ready for the opening of the 68-mile Channel Tunnel Rail Link between the Kent coast and St Pancras in London, Eurostar has decided that it will not be used until a new fleet of high-speed commuter trains enters service in 2009 or 2010. Stratford is costing about £120m to build.