EU in legal moves against Britain, France over channel rail

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The EU said Thursday it has launched legal proceedings against Britain and France over a failure to open up the Channel Tunnel to rivals challenging Eurostar passenger and freight services.

The European Commission is chasing London and Paris to complete the implementation of legislation designed to open up access to rail infrastructure that was due to have passed into national law more than eight years ago.

"Failure to remedy the current situation in the UK and France within two months will result in further measures against these two countries," the European Commission said.

Cases can eventually go to the European courts in Luxembourg where heavy fines can be dished out, although only about five percent ever get that far.

German state-owned railway Deutsche Bahn has been fighting to gain access to the tunnel and launch a rival service on its ICE trains, which the EU says would lead to lower prices for passengers and better services for businesses.

France and Britain have fixed conditions for trains that wish to use the Channel tunnel, in particular their length, that are only met by Eurostar trains that now connect London with Brussels and Paris.

That effectively blocks rivals to Eurostar, owned by the SNCF, its Belgian counterpart SNCB and the British group London and Continental Railways.

© 2011 AFP

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