It is regretted that Eurostar to anywhere north of Euston will not now be running

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The Independent Online
They can cross the Channel and fly through French countryside but will not make it to Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow for the foreseeable future.

Eurostar's much-heralded direct services to the North, originally due to start last summer, suffered another setback last week when it emerged that lingering electrical problems have yet to be ironed out.

The problem is that the trains were designed primarily for the French railways. Each is fitted with a pantograph which maintains pressure on the overhead contact wire and provides the train with electricity. The French prefer their pantographs rigid - which damages delicate British overhead lines.

Trains were tested on the line from Welwyn Garden City to Newark earlier this month in an attempt to rectify the problems, but a solution is not expected in time to operate services this summer.

When the Channel Tunnel was opened five years ago, the Government pledged that services would be introduced to link Glasgow, Preston, Manchester and Cardiff with Paris and Brussels - but little has emerged.

Eurostar, conscious of that promise, ran an express train to Waterloo. This collected passengers from the north of England and delivered them to the Eurostar terminal. However the connecting service did not catch on and was rarely used by the public. Eurostar withdrew it last December.

There have also been serious snags with the company's pounds 100m sleeper services. All 140 of the hi-tech carriages, billed as "hotels on wheels" replete with showers, vacuum toilets and bedrooms, are lying in sidings at present.

This is due to the inability of the Eurostar's engines to supply enough power for washing facilities and lavatories. If all of them were used simultaneously the train would come to a halt. Eurostar has "indefinitely postponed" the sleepers' introduction.

Insider say that the north of London services were a "sop" by the Government trying to sell the Tunnel to other parts of the country. "Ministers wanted it done that way to stop people claiming that it was just another load of money for the South-east," said Roger Ford, technical editor of Modern Railways. "Nobody in the railways wanted those services."

Businesses in the North are equally dismayed. Earlier this month, Andrew Fletcher, company secretary at British Aerospace in Preston, told BBC Radio's You and Yours programme that he felt "disappointed" and "somewhat slighted" by Eurostar's failure to run trains north of London.

"The benefit is time saving. Travelling executives could board the train at midnight at, say, Preston and wake up bright and cheerful in Brussels or Paris the following morning. It happens on the Continent every day of the week, so why can't it happen here in the UK?"

Eurostar says some services to the North could run later this year. "To be brutally frank then yes, some electrical work is part of the reasons why the trains are not in service," said a spokesman.

The company has staked its reputation on "trains to the North". Railtrack, the company that owns the nation's track, signalling and stations, was paid pounds 140m by the Government to shave inches from station platforms and increase tunnel diameters in order to accommodate the Eurostar's larger carriage size.

The eventual introduction of the services are unlikely to placate passenger groups. "They stopped the connecting services at the end of last year and there is nothing now," said Graeme Kendrick, secretary of the Midlands Rail Users Consultative Committee. " We were made promises, it is up to Eurostar to keep them."