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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 10:29 GMT
Virgin's high speed trains delayed
The tilting train
The tilting trains will cut journey times
The Railtrack crisis has set back the introduction of high speed trains on Virgin Rail's London to Glagow route by at least a year.

The rail operator's collapse means that a track upgrade designed to support the new 125mph trains will not be completed on time.

The trains, capable of cutting the London to Glasgow journey time to under four hours, are now not expected to start running at their full speed until May 2003.

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson was taking delivery of the first of a fleet of 53 high speed trains on Monday.

"We're delivering the new trains on time, but I'm afraid Railtrack has said that the speeds we would like will have to be delayed, hopefully only by a few months," he told BBC Radio Four's Today programme.

Railtrack management failure

News of the setback followed revelations that the financial crisis which caused Railtrack's collapse last month is even more serious than originally thought.


Railtrack has failed to deliver on its part of the agreement, and as a result the travelling public will be frustrated yet again

Transport Secretary Stephen Byers

Transport Secretary Stephen Byers said over the weekend that Railtrack's finances are so tangled that it will take longer than the expected six months for administrators to wind the failed company down.

This pushes back the start-date for new management to take over the job of the collapsed operator and start revamping the UK's battered rail network.

Mr Byers blamed the Virgin rail setback on Railtrack's "failure to manage the railway system".

"Virgin has got its trains coming out today, but Railtrack has failed to deliver on its part of the agreement, and as a result the travelling public will be frustrated yet again," he told the Today programme.

3.1bn cash injection needed

The Department of Transport confirmed that Railtrack needs a 3.1bn ($4.3bn) cash injection to keep it going over the next few months, up from an original estimate of 2.1bn.

Mr Byers is hoping to replace Railtrack with a not-for-profit rail authority, but the defunct rail authority's former managers say that the government's decision to declare the company bankrupt will cost more money in the long run.


We'll be pressuring the administrators and government to make sure the delay is not for more than a few months

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson

The delay in upgrading the West Coast main line railway track means that the new trains will not be able to use their "tilting" technology, which enables them to travel around bends faster than conventional trains.

Virgin said the trains will go into service on the West Coast line next summer, but will only run at 110mph and only between London and north west England.

West Midlands and Glasgow services - at 110mph - will start in late 2002, with 125mph tilting services coming in March 2003.

Branson keeps up the pressure

Sir Richard is due to attend a handover ceremony on Monday of the first fully-completed train at manufacturer Alstom's Washwood Heath site near Birmingham.

Virgin Rail plans to lobby the government to ensure that the track upgrade wasn't delayed any further.

"We'll be pressuring the administrators and government to make sure the delay is not for more than a few months," said Sir Richard.

Virgin has ordered a total of 53 nine-coach tilting trains, at a cost of 600m.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"Tilting trains are already commonplace in Europe"
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers
"It is a classic example of Railtrack's failure"
Sir Richard Branson
"We are delivering the high speed trains on time"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Travel woes?
Is UK transport the worst in Europe?
See also:

25 Nov 01 | Business
08 Oct 01 | England
12 Jul 01 | UK
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