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Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 13:38 GMT

UK Politics

Regions 'cheated' over Eurostar

Eurostar has yet to connect the UK's regions to Europe

The UK's regions are being "cheated" because Eurostar train services linking them to Europe have yet to materialise, MPs have said.

The Commons Transport Committee said Parliament's agreement to the 1987 Channel Tunnel Act had depended on the promise of regional services.

Preparations were made to run the services but they have never operated, they said, although the taxpayer has already invested £320m in trains and clearing routes.

Transport Select Committee member Graham Stringer said: "The regions were conned during the debate on the investment that went into the Channel Tunnel."

The solution, he said, was either to take Virgin or another commercial operator up on its offer to run regional Eurostar services or subsidise them.

Regions 'short-changed'

The Transport Committee's report said: "Regional Eurostars should operate, otherwise the regions will continue to be short-changed."

The MPs also said they found "no significant technical obstacles" to operating regional Eurostar services on the West Coast and East Coast Main Lines by early 2000.

But the business consortium that manages Eurostar said last December it was "gloomy" about the future of regional services.

Inter-Capital and Regional Rail also said in a feasibility study that destinations north of London would not be commercially viable until at least 2007 - when both phases of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will be complete.

In December, Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Secretary John Prescott announced he would commission consultants to review the feasibility study.

Virgin offers to step in

The Virgin Group, which bid unsuccessfully for the Eurostar business, says it is prepared to operate regional services at its own risk.

[ image: Virgin says its trains could run a regional service in six months]
Virgin says its trains could run a regional service in six months
In its evidence to the Transport Committee it told MPs it believed that regional Eurostar services could be made profitable within three years.

The company said its service could start within six months and would include a daily service from Glasgow, two services a day from Manchester and one from Birmingham, with four trains a day leaving from Watford.

The MPs' report recommends that the government examine Virgin Group's business plan, and conduct its own research into the potential market, costs and revenues of regional Eurostar services.

The MPs said appointing Inter-Capital and Regional Rail Ltd to conduct a feasibility study "lacks credibility" as the consortium had already decided to promote a Heathrow to Paris service.

This was because, they said, British Airways, one of the consortiums members, has interest in the Heathrow service - and because the study took no account of Virgin Group's proposals.

Other recommendations in the report suggest that the government should look at the potential for Eurostar stops at Kensington Olympia in London and in Watford.

Junior Transport Minister Glenda Jackson welcomed the committee's report saying: "It is very much the government's belief, and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has mentioned it on many occasions, that people living beyond London should have convenient and effective access to the Channel Tunnel rail services."

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