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Saturday, January 31, 1998 Published at 02:09 GMT


How Chunnel rail link hit the buffers
image: [ Eurostar has lost money and ticket sales were lower than expected ]
Eurostar has lost money and ticket sales were lower than expected

London and Continental Railways, who have run the Eurostar train service for the past two years and are supposed to be constructing the high-speed link to London, blame a mixture of bad luck and over-optimism for their current problems.

The company had banked on getting nine million paying customers in seats each year but has so far failed to attract more than two-thirds of that amount.

[ image: A campaign stopped the route passing through Kent]
A campaign stopped the route passing through Kent
This was exacerbated by the Channel Tunnel fire in 1996 when a vehicle fire led to the evacuation of a train mid-tunnel.

Lower projected income meant city investors were reluctant to lend the company the £2bn it needs to complete the link between St Pancras in London and Folkestone.

But some also question the wisdom of the whole plan drawn up by LCR and the previous Conservative government.

It has often been argued a better proposal for the London-Channel Tunnel connection came at the end of the 1980s from British Rail.

While the LRC plans involve running trains to and from St Pancras in north London, BR's idea was to use the Waterloo station in the south of the city.

[ image: Former Transport Secretary Sir George Young (right)]
Former Transport Secretary Sir George Young (right)
It wanted to build a link running through Kent, but the concerns of a number of Kent Tory MPs persuaded the then Transport Secretary, George Young, to block the project.

The former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, was also against British Rail's plans. He saw a northerly alignment of the route into London as fitting in with his plans for the regeneration of areas of east London and Essex.

A number of options are possible if LCR cannot come up with the £1.2bn it needs within the month the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, has given it.

Other private operators, in particular Railtrack, have said they would be interested in stepping in if the terms were right.

But this could mean shifting the route and confronting a new set of angry residents.

Alternatively, British Rail, which continues to exist despite the wholesale privatisation of the rail network and services in Britain, could take over the St Pancras to Folkstone link as a wholly public sector project.

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29 Jan 98†|†UK
Prescott rejects £1.2bn Chunnel link rescue

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