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Midland metro delay clocks up damages

TROUBLED LAING-LED consortium Altram is losing up to £20,000 a day in liquidated damages after failing to open the £145M Midland Metro line on time.

Delays have been blamed on faulty windscreen wipers and headlights on rolling stock. Altram, which includes Italian train manufacturer Ansaldo Trasporti, claims that technical problems have delayed train driver training, and prevented approval by the Railway Inspectorate on the line.

The light rail scheme, which runs between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, was originally due for completion in August 1998. The latest problems follow the late delivery of rolling stock last year (NCE 1 October). Altram, three years into a 23 year operating concession, is unlikely to open the line until next April.

Altram has refused to commit to a definite new opening date. A spokesman said: 'Britain has the most rigorous railway inspection system in the world and it is absolutely right that the Inspector is convinced of the safety of the metro before we start operation.'

But the delay also means the new metro will now have to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, which came into force on 1 January. Assessment of the impact is now being carried out but is likely to require changes to the train's doors, information systems and internal furniture, and could push the opening date back further.

No decision has been made on how the cost of the liquidated damages will be split between Laing and Ansaldo. A Laing spokesman said: 'This is a very sensitive issue and is being resolved as we speak.'

West Midlands passenger transport authority Centro said it was 'very disappointed' by the further delays. A spokeswoman added: 'We have been expressing concerns for some months.'

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