Channel tunnel's pounds 100m lost summer

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THE CHANNEL tunnel will not open for this summer's holiday rush because of delays in the final testing of systems. Only a few special excursions will be allowed through until it opens fully, in September at the earliest. That will be at least 15 months later than was announced when work started in

December 1987.

Eurotunnel, the tunnel's operator, is concentrating on getting ready for freight as soon as possible, but even those services may not start until after the official opening by the Queen and President Francois Mitterrand on 6 May - two months later than was announced last year.

Freight services include Eurotunnel's Le Shuttle trains, which will take 28 lorries at a time, and through services run by national railway companies. British Rail's subsidiary, Railfreight Distribution, has been ready to go for weeks.

The loss of the high season tourist traffic is a serious blow to Eurotunnel. It will cost an estimated pounds 100m in revenue and gives ferries a free run for one more summer.

No precise date can yet be given for the start of any tunnel service, which is likely to delay Eurotunnel's bid to raise a further pounds 1bn to see it through until the tunnel is fully operating, bringing the the project's total cost to pounds 10bn.

The company is likely to offer cheap deals for special group trips on its Le Shuttle trains, which are designed to take motorists with their cars the 50 kilometres from Folkestone to Calais in 35 minutes. The service may be used, for example, by Second World War veterans attending the Normandy 50th anniversary celebrations for D-Day.

However, the normal 'turn up and go' service for motorists using the Le Shuttle service will now not start before September and Eurotunnel has stopped selling tickets, available since January, and is offering a full refund. Only a few hundred had been sold.

The delay has no single cause but arises from a series of minor mishaps and an unrealistic assumption that commissioning tests to bring the tunnel into use could be carried out within six months.

A Eurotunnel source said: 'It can be the most minor things. For example, we had a ventilation test and found there was very little pressure in the middle of the tunnel. All the pressure was being lost through the small holes for cables and wires into the service tunnel and we had to block all those up.'

By the start of this week, 34 of the 50 commissioning tests had been carried out successfully. Some evacuation procedures had 'only been partly successful'.

A typical delay is the commissioning of the Folkestone control centre. In January, when it was first used by Eurotunnel to signal through all the trains, it took five hours for the first to start because an alarm signal went off every 24 seconds. Every passageway door left open or piece of equipment in the wrong place triggered the alarm.

The other main problem for Eurotunnel has been the slow delivery of locomotives. Even now the company has only 18 of an expected 38 in full working order.

Unrealistic targets, page 7

Leading article, page 15