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Eurostar regional routes to be ditched

EUROSTAR'S NEW management consortium plans to tell Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott next week that regional services to Manchester and Birmingham are 'not economic' without substantial government subsidy.

It is also expected to say that running Eurostar trains out of the new Heathrow Express stations is unviable, and instead will recommend running 'kiss and ride' services from Watford and Kensington Olympia station in west London.

Prescott asked the consortium, made up of National Express, British Airways, French national railway company SNCF and Belgian railways SNCB, to carry out a study into alternative services when Channel Tunnel Rail Link funding problems were solved in June. A report was due to be submitted by the end of October, but is now understood to be running two weeks late.

Sources close to Eurostar revealed on Tuesday that long-awaited services to Birmingham and Manchester are to be dropped. These services should have been in operation already, but Eurostar and Railtrack have been struggling for three years to resolve technical problems caused by the trains' complex power units interfering with track circuitry and signalling equipment (NCE 24 April 1997).

A senior source claimed: 'The sheer cost of running trains versus the volume of passengers that would use them means that services to Birmingham and Manchester would not be economical.'

Chair of transport campaign group Fast Tracks to Europe, councillor Stewart Stacey, described cancellation of the plans as 'disastrous for the Midlands and North West. The whole Channel Tunnel project was sold to Parliament on the basis that it would benefit all the regions of this country and it would not have gone ahead if it had been promoted then as a tool merely for London and the South East.'

A Eurostar spokesman refused to comment on the report but said the company would 'act in its commercial interests'. Prescott is expected to make an announcement to Parliament on the future of regional Eurostar services by the end of the year.

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