This famous rail link is in deep trouble

Britain is in a flashpoint over the nation’s much-hailed railway system, as a bitter row over a single rail link to France escalates.

About 100,000 people have signed a petition against the proposed Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The controversial alternative to the High Speed 2 (HS2) line now under construction might only make a token stab at countering the HS2 line, but is instead part of a “strategy to make a mockery of the commitment to build HS2,” the petitioners have warned.

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) network is seen as an important future rail link but potentially a key liability, creating a monster £30 billion-a-year bill to taxpayers. The CRC, could link Alderney to mainland Britain via mainland France, and originally the route had been set along the Isle of Man in the East.

The CRC is now a no-go for the Tory government, although it had earlier insisted the option still had “serious merit.”

Passenger dissatisfaction with the high rail fares, punctuality and maintenance problems plaguing the railways today have not helped, nor has the often-mocked PR team at the National Rail.

Historically, the train service in Britain has been little more than a one-way trip from London to Manchester. The season ticket to London from north of Manchester, for example, is the equivalent of £42,250. But the CRC would begin as a twice-weekly link between an existing railway line, and with cars around the clock the long-haul service would rival the more expensive French connections.

The primary concern in this regard is how to bypass many of the major towns and cities across Northern England without creating massive traffic congestion in the region. A similar challenge exists for any other future network.

Also, after 2025, when the cash is in place to build a fixed line for the link, the country will need to find new railways to build the subways and buses the CRC, would provide to carry the people to their destination.

Many believe the true heart of the network is an eight-mile tunnel under the Channel that would take trains for up to 70 minutes to reach the mainland from the peninsula of the French city, Calais.

If it was a fixed link and not a breakaway cable, CHS rail was also aware that the situation would be complex if the CRC plan was scrapped, and would have become an embarrassment.

The CHS would have had to invest in state-of-the-art engineering, during a period when the British government is still fiscally responsible for the upkeep of the existing tunnels and the old Royal Mail line.

“The main problem is the seamless use of existing infrastructure,” an internal CHS report found. “Charter Train companies have been heavily subsidised for almost 60 years and are working on purely commercial bases.”

These sources, who spoke to The Telegraph, said in the absence of a link to the mainland, the rail companies had little interest in investing, and would only come on board when they had at least a guarantee that the CRC would be a viable project.

‘The plan would definitely need to go out to tender,'” said one source. “But that could create the whole issue again. It would be very difficult to build it if there is no CRC.”

The backlash over the CRC came about at a summit in February on matters of safety and security, held by the French and British authorities.

A project involving the CRC was discussed. Representatives from the CHS also attended, along with members of Britain’s Department for Transport.

It was clear by then that the CRC would not proceed under the current Conservatives, although the government would commit to building the new rail connections the CRC would have to provide.

There was also some support for the CRC in the development of the entire sector.

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said the CRC would be of benefit, but “only a small part of it”.

But the CRC has taken another step to help its cause.

On Friday, the three main shareholders – four French railway unions and the French government – announced their agreement to proceed with the CTCL despite union opposition. A vote of support by the unions is expected next week.

Talks will start shortly on securing the necessary financial backing for the scheme, with more redundancies expected among the workers concerned.

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