Gross errors behind the Channel Tunnel Rail Link

According to the forecasts made by Eurotunnel's consultants in 1985, Eurostar should have carried some 18 million passengers last year. The actual figure was 6.3 million. The difference cannot be explained by fear of underground travel, as Paul Vallely maintains ("A 20-minute date with fear", rail supplement, 9 April). It is due to gross errors in the consultants' estimates of the time and cost of travel by Eurostar and by the competing air services. These errors were pointed out at the time and on many occasions since, and it is a disquieting reflection on the British system of government that no one paid any attention.

This situation continues. The proposed Channel Tunnel Rail Link from St Pancras to Cheriton will cost about £7.6 billion, of which at least £1.94 billion will be provided by the taxpayer. This link is very damaging environmentally and is almost completely pointless as a transport investment. It would never have been proposed if approximately accurate passenger forecasts had been available. John Prescott could have put a stop to it early last year, when low passenger levels forced London and Continental Railways to ask for an increased subsidy, but he chose not to. All the claims he made for the scheme when announcing his rescue package in the House of Commons last June are incorrect, and since then the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Treasury have resorted to increasingly dishonest and evasive attempts at justification.

Parliament could still stop this folly, but the Committee of Public Accounts and the Transport Sub-committee of the House of Commons, both of which are hopelessly under-resourced and overloaded with other work, appear reluctant to get involved.

Stephen Plowden
London NW1

This article first appeared in the 19 April 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Prepare for a brave new world