DELAYS TO the award of the franchise for commuter services on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) will prevent new trains from being ready in time for the line's 2007 opening, it emerged this week.
Kent commuters will be forced to wait until at least 2008 before the planned eight train an hour commuter service between Central London and Kent is introduced.
Public subsidies for commuter services using the CTRL are vital to the financing of the whole high speed rail project.
The government has committed to underwrite track access charges for commuter services on CTRL for 17 years whether trains run or not.
But a source close to the project said that details of the franchise for commuter services using the CTRL had still to be decided.
This means new commuter trains have not been ordered, making it unlikely that they will be ready in time.
'Designing these trains from scratch, building them and carrying out safety approvals takes five years from the moment you decide you need the train, ' said a source.
London First director of transport policy Irving Yass said that if the commuter trains were delivered late there would be a 'huge waste of public money' because government had guaranteed track access revenues.
'Government would be paying for basically nothing, ' said Yass, adding that the delay would also have serious implications for the regeneration of the Thames Gateway.
Rail Passengers Committee secretary Mike Hewitson expressed concern that if trains were ordered now their delivery timescale would be 'tight.'
He blamed delays in ordering the new rolling stock on the failure of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to decide which stations on lines feeding onto the CTRL would be served by the new trains.
An SRA spokesman confirmed this week that details of the franchise had yet to be agreed. He said the authority was shortly due to start consultation on preferred routes.
But he denied that commuter trains would be delivered late.
'We are starting competitive bidding for the rolling stock over the next three months, and our advice from rolling stock manufacturers has been that that they can meet the timescale, ' he said.
Experts said this week that delivery of new 225km/h trains would take time as they have to be sent to Europe for intensive safety tests and be fitted with incar signalling.
The trains must also be able to run smoothly between the high-speed line - which uses overhead power cables - and local lines powered by a third rail system.
INFOPLUS www. nceplus.co.uk/magazine /rail