Channel tunnel rail link facing further delay

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE START of train services linking London with Paris and Brussels through the Channel tunnel has been delayed until October because preliminary testing of the trains has shown they are not yet reliable enough for passenger service.

The Eurostar trains which are being operated jointly by the three national railways were to have started running early next month for special groups such as the travel trade and railway enthusiasts, building up to a commercial service of a train each day to each capital by the early autumn.

Now, the test trains will not start until October; a commercial service for the public will not start before late autumn and may even be delayed until the start of 1995. Eurotunnel had hoped that 2.5 million passengers would use the tunnel by the end of this year.

All the services through the tunnel have started at least a year later than originally anticipated and the latest delay means that the train service will be 18 months late.

The trains, which are probably the most complicated ever built because they need three power systems to cope with the different railways, keep breaking down during tests. Moreover, because Eurotunnel has not yet received its operating certificate, Eurostar trains have not been able to run through the tunnel to obtain sufficient mileage for full testing.

The only Eurostar train to have gone through the tunnel with passengers since the inauguration by the Queen and President Mitterrand on 6 May, broke down on its return when overhead electric wiring failed.

The latest delay is bound to fuel a further row between the railways and Eurotunnel which has already threatened legal action over the British Government's failure to provide a high-speed rail link and a station at Ashford in time for the opening of the tunnel.

A spokeswoman for Eurotunnel said last night: 'The tunnel is ready and waiting. We will obtain the operating certificate for Eurostar trains in the next couple of weeks and then it is up to the railways to provide a service.'

Eurotunnel recently raised over pounds 1.5bn from shareholders and its banks, bringing the total cost of the project to pounds 10.5bn.

In the prospectus it said passengers trains would start running in July but the loss of most of this year's anticipated revenue from Eurostar is likely to be insignificant in the face of its pounds 8bn debts. Shareholders have been told not to expect a dividend before 2003.

Some small revenues are coming in despite similar delays in the other Channel tunnel services. About six through-freight trains are operating, and an hourly Le Shuttle service for trucks has been running on weekdays since 19 May, but hauliers are being given special cheap rates.