Channel tunnel to 'open in autumn'

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THE Channel tunnel will not be ready in time for the summer tourist traffic, Eurotunnel confirmed yesterday.

The co-chairman of Eurotunnel, Sir Alastair Morton, said that the 'turn up and go' shuttle service for cars will not start before October, although there would be special 'Overture' services from July carrying 50,000 cars for shareholders and selected media and trade customers.

Eurostar trains linking London with Paris and Brussels will start in July for invited travellers, and start operating commercially in the autumn. Sir Alastair refused to give specific dates for the start of any of the services because of the failure to meet previous commitments.

Shuttle freight-running will start operating soon after the 6 May official inauguration, for selected operators, and start running on a commercial basis by early June. Sir Alastair said that the delays had been caused by the difficulties in carrying out commissioning tests, notably on the tunnel's signalling system.

Sir Alastair also revealed that Eurotunnel is claiming damages of more than pounds 1bn from British Rail and the French railway, SNCF, over the failure of BR to provide a high-speed link and the revision downwards of traffic forecasts by SNCF.

In fact, the claim appears to be part of an attempt to get the two railways to agree to higher tolls for their use of the tunnel.

British Rail rejects the validity of any claim. Initial arbitration is due to take place in September in Paris.