Great train robbery: Scots lose out on direct link to France
CROSS-channel rail operators were last night condemned for refusing to run direct trains between Scotland and the Continent - even though Scots taxpayers stumped up £200m towards the cost of a link in London that could pave the way for a non-stop service.
Eurostar is moving its London hub from Waterloo to St Pancras, which is linked to King’s Cross, meaning trains from Edinburgh could run through to Paris and Brussels from 2007.
The new Channel Tunnel Rail Link will run for 39 kilometres from St Pancras to Ebbsfleet, in Kent, to join the existing 1.9bn link to the tunnel at Folkstone.
Scottish taxpayers have paid an estimated 10th of the 2bn of public money injected into the 3.3bn project linking Eurostar services from London to the tunnel - the rest coming from the private sector.
But Eurostar has confirmed it will not fulfil a promise made by the British Railways Board in 1989 to give Scotland direct services to Europe because it claims they would not be economically viable.
The news was condemned by Scottish politicians and rail campaigners who say the south-east of England should not be the only part of Britain to benefit from the millions spent on track for Eurostar.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that councils in England and Scotland will urge transport secretary Alistair Darling in the new year to pressurise Eurostar to lay on direct services to Europe from north of London. The cross-party Channel Tunnel initiative, led by Strathclyde Passenger Transport chairman Alistair Watson, wants Darling to subsidise direct Eurostar services beyond London.
Watson said: "This is not good enough from Eurostar. It is totally unacceptable.
"Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been sunk into the Eurostar infrastructure and the benefits have to be spread throughout the UK.
"Our group will be urgently seeking a meeting with the secretary of state to powerfully put the argument that we have to have these benefits spread throughout the UK and not just in the overheated economy of the south-east of England.
"We know the government doesn’t have an infinite amount of cash, but what we are looking for is fair play."
SNP transport spokesman Fergus Ewing said: "For Scotland to be cut off from a direct European rail link is an inexplicable omission. I will take this matter up with transport minister Nicol Stephen and Alistair Darling and urge them to seek an explanation from Eurostar in order to have them reassess their decision.
"We were promised a direct rail service from Scotland through to Europe and that’s what we should get."
Colin Howden, of the public transport lobby group Transform Scotland, said: "Eurostar won’t do it unless they are asked to, and it is for Westminster and the Scottish Executive to put pressure on them to provide it."
When Eurostar moves its hub from Waterloo to St Pancras in 2007, Scots travelling to Europe by train will be able to save about an hour.
Currently, travellers arriving on the east coast main line from Edinburgh at King’s Cross have to travel across London for up to an hour to get to Waterloo.
But in 2007, King’s Cross and St Pancras will be linked and passengers from Edinburgh will face a two-minute walk to board the Eurostar.
Passengers from Glasgow who arrive at Euston will only have to travel one underground stop to St Pancras to get the Eurostar.
Richard Jones, of Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which is building the link, confirmed that it would be possible for direct trains to run from Edinburgh to Paris through St Pancras when the link was completed in 2007.
But Paul Charles, Eurostar’s director of communications, said the company did not believe it would be technically possible. Separate studies by the Department of Transport, Eurostar and consultants Arthur D Little in the mid-1990s found direct services from Scotland to Europe would have to be heavily subsidised because they were not economical.
Charles said: "It is not commercially viable to run direct trains from Edinburgh to Paris. We are in the business of trying to run a profitable business, and running a service from Edinburgh with low demand would not make sense.
"You can live in a political world where you don’t need to care about making a profit, but that is what we have got to do.
"There is no intention at all of running services from Edinburgh. Fifteen years ago it may have been realistic, but in today’s world of low-cost air travel it makes no economic sense in running direct services to Edinburgh."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said rail routes were a reserved matter for the Strategic Rail Authority.
A Department of Transport spokeswoman said: "Studies have shown that direct Eurostar services would not be financially viable because of the direct competition with low-cost airlines.
"And in 2007 the channel tunnel rail link to St Pancras will connect the east and west coast rail lines."
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Monday 20 May 2013
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