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French, British Railways To Seek Damages For Chunnel Delay

March 14, 1994

PARIS (AP) _ French and British railway officials said Monday they will seek compensation for losses resulting from the delays in starting freight service through the yet-to-open Channel Tunnel.

Eurotunnel, operator of the tunnel under the English Channel, had hoped to begin freight service March 7. But the start-up has been delayed indefinitely, as has the start of passenger service, initially expected to begin in early May.

Alain Poinssot, director of freight operations for SNCF, the French national railroad, said the delays were causing financial losses for his company and British Rail.

He also said the uncertainty over a start-up date was creating mistrust and impatience among clients of the two railway’s freight services.

Poinssot, joined at a news conference by his British Rail counterpart Ian Brown, said the amount of damages to be sought would be determined by lawyers for the two railways.

Eurotunnel already is engaged in a legal dispute with the railways, seeking to compensate for the soaring cost of the project by raising the previously agreed fees which the railways would pay for use of the undersea tracks.

Eurotunnel characterized the action by the railroads as a counterclaim to its earlier action against them.

″It’s really a jockeying for position,″ said Eurotunnel spokesman Robin Swinbank in London. ″Our claim is certainly higher than theirs.″

Swinbank declined to elaborate on the relative size of the claims.

Poinssot took an optimistic long-term view, saying the Channel Tunnel would provide revolutionary improvements in rail traffic between Britain and the continent, enabling freight trains to make the trip without unloading.

He predicted the tunnel, within two or three years, would accommodate the equivalent of 700,000 truckloads of cargo.

The official inauguration of the tunnel is still set for May 6, but Eurotunnel had indicated that passenger service would be delayed for at least several weeks after that date.

The so-called Chunnel is actually three tunnels bored under the English Channel’s chalk seabed. The two main tunnels carry one-way rail traffic. A smaller service tunnel runs between them.

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