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Ministers question Pendolino reliability

The French manufacturer of Sir Richard Branson's Pendolino trains - launched by the Prime Minister last September - will be carpeted today by ministers angry over their reliability.

The Government wants to know why the trains, made by the engineering company Alstom, are between 14 and 20 times more likely to break down than similar rolling stock on the Continent. While the performance of the "tilting'' trains on the flagship west coast main line is improving, they are breaking down on one in every six trips between London and Glasgow.

Virgin Trains has so far taken all the flak over delays and cancellations, but today the focus will shift to the manufacturers.

Ministers will say that while "teething troubles'' can be expected with a new service, Pendolinos had been in operation in Italy for a number of years.

In a keynote speech to industry leaders recently Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, said: "Passengers don't care about process. They see the investment that has gone ... but frankly they will only care if they see the benefits - delays being reduced and the trains running on time.''

Ministers are anxious that in the approach to the general election the important north-south link is running efficiently.

The French group is part of a consortium that manufactured a new intercity express in Germany which has encountered problems. The high-speed trains have suffered frequent breakdowns. The Pendolinos have suffered similar problems.

A spokesman for Alstom said the Pendolinos were getting better. Virgin Trains refused to comment on any meeting.