pounds 200m of new trains on track to nowhere

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New trains which cost pounds 200m of taxpayers' money are lying disused in an old army bunker and are to be junked. The 139 coaches were intended for night sleeper services through the Channel Tunnel, linking British cities, including Glasgow, Plymouth and Swansea, directly with the Continent.

Now they will never be used for that purpose because London & Continental Railways, which was given them in a deal with the last Tory government, would make enormous losses running them.

Rolling stock is being kept in a bunker on a disused army base in Warwickshire and the company will now consider selling or leasing out the trains. An announcement by L&CR - which is owned by a consortium that includes Richard Branson's Virgin - is expected shortly.

The coaches, built by Metro Cammell in Birmingham, a subsidiary of GEC Alsthom, have also been hit by a number of technical problems as they use too much power and have a number of other electrical glitches delaying their completion.

Despite the problems, however, many of the trains have been completed and tested in Britain, Germany and France. Now LC&R may strip out their fittings and transfer them to domestic services. Virgin, which operates both the West Coast Main Line and the Cross Country services is likely to be short of trains if passenger numbers continue to grow and may try to buy or lease the trains which, though heavier than conventional stock, would be perfectly suitable for domestic use.

Sleeper services through the tunnel were due to be introduced nearly two years ago following a promise by the gov- ernment to introduce them. The then Transport Secretary, Brian Mawhinney, told the October 1994 Tory conference that they would be in service by early 1996.

L&CR, which runs Eurostar services, has realised that there is no market for the sleeper trains which were due to be running on a number of routes linking provincial towns in Britain with the Continent. Plymouth and Swansea were to have been linked with a train at Kensington Olympia in west London and continued to Paris. Another train was to have gone from Glasgow to Paris but would have taken 13 hours and was not going to have a restaurant car.

The night trains were built as a result of a political commitment by the Conservative government to MPs in the provinces, particularly the South-west and the North. One inside source said: "There was a back-room stitch-up. MPs were promised the trains if they allowed the Channel Tunnel Act to go through."

This resulted in the creation of the sleeper trains which were originally due to have cost pounds 150m but are now thought by industry experts to have resulted in expenditure of at least pounds 1.5m per coach, or more than pounds 200m.