Jumping on the train wagon

Jumping on the train wagon

Motorail makes a return to the UK next week when First Great Western starts carrying cars between London andPenzance.

The year-round Penzance operation will run daily except Saturday. Two wagons carrying up to six cars will be joined to the Night Riviera sleeper service on the 305-mile route.

Car drivers and their passengers will travel in a newly refurbished first-class sleeper. All travel on daytime motorail services operating on 20 peak holiday dates, will be first class.

A First Great Western spokesman said"We are the first company to reinstate motorail. If the service takes off, there is scope to increase capacity."

The cost of a return trip for car and driver ranges from £259 in low season up to a high season price of £390. Accompanying adults pay £110-£170 return; children from £70-£110 return.

This adds up to £509 in low season or £780 in high season for a family of four for the 610-mile round trip - more expensive per mile than French motorail, which charges £953-£1,187 for the 1,400-mile return trip from Calais to Narbonne.

Motorail services from the Midlands and the North to Penzance began in 1956, and then from London 10 years later.

At the height of motorail's popularity in the early 1970s, almost 100,000 cars a year were carried by train. British Rail scrapped the service in the late '80s. Modest investment in the restored motorail operation covers the conversion of four vans which allow side loading from station platforms. Trials started last week.

The reintroduction of motorail to Scotland, however, is still on hold following a breakdown in consultations between independent operator Motorail Ltd and STBA, which owns the wagons.

Deputy prime minister John Prescott was due to launch the new London-Scotland motorail service in late March but over four months later the service is still on hold.

The company - which was launched in May 1997 - continues to move cars by road transporters on its Auto Shuttle Express.

The proposed rail operation is vehicle only - passengers would travel independently of their cars with West Coast operator Virgin Trains, which had planned to offer a special launch fare.

Motorail Ltd is also evaluating a service between Bristol and Scotland to serve the West Country and is in discussions with Eurotunnel over operating from Glasgow and London to Paris.

A Motorail spokesman said: "It seems there's no room at the Moss End centre near Glasgow to store the cars.

"We've asked John Prescott for his help in sorting it out."

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