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Eurostar rail dream reaches end of the line.

Birmingham's hopes of a direct rail link to Europe appeared to be finally killed off yesterday when a new report said it would lose money and be slower than normal trains.

Independent consultants called in by Deputy Prime Minister Mr John Prescott said any benefits the service brought the West Midlands would be too small to make up for the failure to make a profit.

It confirmed an earlier analysis by Eurostar, which was supposed to run the service from Paris to Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland but pulled out when it found it would not be profitable.

Outraged campaigners then insisted regional Eurostar services were promised in return for MPs supporting subsidies to build the Channel Tunnel and Virgin Trains claimed it could make them profitable.

But yesterday Virgin confirmed it was no longer interested in running regional services as competition from budget airlines had changed the transport market.

Yesterday's report looks set to end the dream of having a non-stop Eurostar service from Birmingham to Paris and Brussels. A slow service was originally due to start in 1996 and a fast four-hour service was planned for 2003 once a new Channel Tunnel rail link was built through east London.

Consultants Arthur D Little said a West Coast Main Line Eurostar through Birmingham would be the "least loss making" of the regional services and would help regions by giving them an "address" on the European rail network.

However, it said it would be unlikely to attract business travellers and could not compete with cheaper air services. The service would be slower than getting a domestic train to London Waterloo and changing to Eurostar, because even after it is upgraded, the West Coast Main Line will not allow regional Eurostar trains to run at their full speed. Eurostar trains lose more speed when they travel through London on domestic tracks.

The consultants said an alternative option would be leasing the seven Eurostar regional trains bought for pounds 180 million to train operators to add to their domestic fleets.

Last night Birmingham Coun Stewart Stacey, chairman of the Fast Tracks to Europe Alliance, said regional services were always expected to make a loss at first and called on Mr Prescott to ensure they were provided.

"It was part of the political deal at the time for the go-ahead for the Channel Tunnel that there would be benefits for the rest of the regions.

"No one said that they would be self-financing and we call on the Government to deliver them on behalf of Parliament."

Mr Peter Snape (Lab West Bromwich E) said the deal to get MPs' support for the Channel Tunnel assumed that the fast rail link through London to the tunnel would be in place.

"Thanks to the incompetence of the Thatcher Government it has not been completed. Now you can fly in an hour and 20 minutes from Birmingham to Paris no one other than a fervent train spotter would want to spend more than four hours on the train," he said.

Transport Minister Mr Keith Hill said yesterday's report would be considered by the British Railways Board in its review of all Eurostar services, which is expected to report in early summer.

No stopping: The Eurostar service from Birmingham to Paris and Brussels is delayed indefinitely.
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Author:Gray, Chris
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 18, 2000
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