Parliament: Transport: Regions `owed' Eurostar link

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THE HOUSE of Commons and the taxpayer were misled by promises of Eurostar services to connect Scotland, Wales and the English regions with Europe, a powerful cross-party committee of MPs said yesterday.

The regions were "cheated" of direct links to Paris and Brussels that would have provided enormous economic benefits, according to the hard- hitting report. One MP said the report exposed a "catalogue of deceit and scandal".

Seven regional trains were ordered at a cost of pounds 180m and pounds 140m was spent on clearing the necessary train paths. No service has ever run.

The Commons Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and the Regions said in its report: "The regions have been cheated. The acquiescence of members of Parliament to the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 depended on the provision of regional services." The government review announced last month should be conducted "against the background of the promise of regional Eurostar services implicit in the Act".

British Rail unveiled plans in 1989 to run day services from Manchester, Wolverhampton and Leeds and Edinburgh and sleeper services from Scotland, Swansea and Plymouth.

Gwyneth Dunwoody (Lab, Crewe and Nantwich), committee chairwoman, told a news conference: "It is wrong that taxpayers should have been, I believe, misled at the time of the original Bill and I believe the Government has a golden opportunity to put things right."

Virgin Group, which bid unsuccessfully for the Eurostar business and is now prepared to operate regional services at its own risk, had told MPs its proposals would be profitable in three years.

The MPs' report recommended that the Government examines Virgin Group's business plan, and also conduct its own research into the potential market, costs and revenues of regional Eurostar services.