Taxpayers are funding rail depot for trains that only run in France
Monday 10 October 2011
The Government is spending more than £300,000 a year on maintenance facilities for French trains commissioned as part of an aborted rail project that cost British taxpayers more than £180m.
The Department for Transport spent "between £300,000 and £400,000 last year" on mothballed facilities for the aborted Regional Eurostar project that would have provided a direct link between provincial cities and the Continent.
The seven trains that were built to run these services – at a cost of £180m – are now used by the French train operator SNCF to alleviate rolling-stock shortages on its high-speed service between Paris and Lille.
A depot built in Manchester to maintain the trains remains the responsibility of London & Continental Railways, a company that is wholly owned by the Department for Transport. It has lain largely unused since it was built in the early 1990s and London & Continental has to pay for its upkeep, though there has been no indication that it will ever be required for its original purpose.
For many years a sign declaring "Le Eurostar habite ici" (Eurostar resides here) hung on the building in the city's Longsight district.
Bruce Williamson, of the lobby group Railfuture, said: "One has to ask whether the Department for Transport are getting best value for money out of this asset. £300,000 a year could subsidise extra services."
The chief executive of London & Continental Railways, David Joy, said: "Securing a new railway tenant or purchaser for the site remains the preferred solution. There have been inquiries from rail industry companies regarding potential uses of the main depot building, although as yet there is no firm proposal. We are reviewing where we can economise."
The Regional Eurostar service was to have run services from cities such as Manchester and Glasgow to Paris and was part of the programme to build the Channel Tunnel, but was shelved after rail privatisation.
The trains are owned by Eurostar International, which runs passenger services through the Channel Tunnel. It leased them to SNCF for four years in 2007 and is likely to renew the lease, even though the trains could be used to reduce overcrowding on UK routes.
Eurostar declined to comment on contract's value or whether it might run regional services in future.
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