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Wednesday, April 28, 1999 Published at 20:25 GMT 21:25 UK

Business: The Economy

Eurostar extension in doubt

This may not become a familiar sight in the North of England

Plans for direct Eurostar trains linking cities such as Edinburgh and Manchester to Paris are in serious doubt after the company said it was making half the drivers earmarked for such services redundant. The remainder are being hired out to do other jobs as the BBC's Alan Whitehouse reports.

Cities in Scotland and the North of England were promised international Eurostars five years ago, but apart from a few test trains, nothing happened.

The BBC's Alan Whitehouse: "Over £2 million of tax payers money has already been spent"
Eurostar has already said it does not want to run trains to the North and Scotland and rail campaigners say getting rid of the drivers amounts to sabotage.

Jonathan Bray, from Save Our Railways, said: "The English regions were promised direct links, through the Channel tunnel with Eurostar.

"We've got a review going on at the moment, from the Government, to see how that could work out.

Sabotaging services

"At the same time, Eurostar are laying off drivers that would be needed to make that happen

"It's prejudging that review. It seems to us, it's sabotaging the future of regional Eurostar."

So far 16 drivers have been dismissed and 15 more put on to other work, even though they are the only crews with the specialist knowledge needed to operate northern Eurostars.

But an industry umbrella group, The Railway Forum, which includes Eurostar, says the company had no choice.

Railway Forum managing director David Morphet said: "Eurostar do not believe that the present regional Eurostar services are commercially viable.

"They've looked at it closely and in particular, the competitive position that they would be in in relation to air services and other alternative travel possibilities."

Tight lipped

Over £200m of taxpayers' money has already been spent on a fleet of seven trains and specialised maintenance bases, which now may never be used.

Eurostar is saying little, but their critics insist there are some awkward questions to be answered, such as why drivers who have been on the payroll for years are being dismissed only months before a final verdict on whether regional trains will run or not is expected.

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