Top speed on tunnel route to be 186mph

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TRAINS WILL be allowed to travel at 186mph on the new channel tunnel link, making them the fastest on British railway lines, despite earlier government promises they would be limited to 140mph.

The contract to build the 68- mile Channel Tunnel Rail Link between London and the tunnel is to be offered for tender to private firms later this year. According to the tender documents currently being drawn up, as an extra inducement, firms bidding for the project will be allowed to build a line capable of allowing the cross-channel Eurostar trains to travel at the same speed as in France, 300 kilometres per hour (186mph).

In order to satisfy environmentalists' concern about noise from the trains, the Government had said that trains would be restricted to 140mph. The trains would still be limited to 140mph north of the Thames, but would be allowed to go at 186mph on most of the stretch between Gravesend and Folkestone.

When the Eurostar trains start operating through the tunnel in July, they will take about three hours to Paris and 15 minutes longer to Brussels. The pounds 3bn rail link, which will not be completed until 2002 at the earliest, will shave about 25 minutes off the times of the train journeys from London to Paris and Brussels.

If trains are allowed to travel at 186mph in Britain the journey to Paris could be several minutes shorter, possibly as low as two and a half hours, which the airlines will find it impossible to match.