Tuesday, October 19, 2010

German trains test Channel tunnel route

German trains test Channel tunnel routeSt Pancras welcomes 200mph train that railway chiefs hope will connect Frankfurt to London by the end of 2013
Haroon Siddique guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 October 2010 08.50 BST Article historyHigh-speed German train arrives at St Pancras Link to this video A German high-speed train of the type railway chiefs hope will connect the UK with Germany by the end of 2013 was unveiled in London this morning after a dry run.

The 200mph train operated by Germany's state railway company, Deutsche Bahn (DB), was at St Pancras station for an event due to be attended by the transport minister, Theresa Villiers.

It arrived at St Pancras after a safety exercise in the Channel tunnel. The state-of-the-art, German-made, Inter City Express (ICE3) train must pass stringent tunnel safety tests before it can start full services from Frankfurt to London, with December 2013 the likely start date.

Rail experts expect it to open up Britain to a new market for rail travel, put downward pressure on Eurostar fares and challenge one of Europe's busiest aviation markets.

DB is considering a route that would start in Frankfurt – the heart of Germany's finance industry – with possible stops at Cologne and Brussels en route to London. The service is expected to grow the high-speed rail market between London and the continent by around 10%, carrying more than 1 million passengers per year.

The service would stretch the industry maxim that rail journeys must last no longer than four hours in order to compete with airlines.

A trip between Europe's two largest financial centres would take four to five hours, with DB hoping that the appeal of broadband access and lack of airport security hassle will tempt the all-important business traveller market.

Channel tunnel safety authorities have already relaxed regulations that will make it easier for DB to operate a London-to-Frankfurt service.

Trains using the Channel tunnel have to be 375m long as that is the distance between the emergency exits in the tunnel that connect with the central service tunnel used in the event of emergency evacuations.

The ICE3 trains are not that long so two would be bolted together for the journey through the tunnel. But that would mean passengers could not travel through the length of the train, so DB has to prove that this would not be a hindrance and show that it can evacuate people from either end without serious problems. There have been three fires in the tunnel since it opened in 1994.

The service could use the high-speed terminal at Stratford in east London to tap the business market at Canary Wharf and in the City, according to High Speed One, the owner and operator of the Channel tunnel rail link.

Eurostar, the Paris and Brussels service that operates from St Pancras, has been a success since its 1994 debut, now carrying more than 9 million passengers and taking three-quarters of the air and rail market between London and the French and Belgian capitals.

Jimmy Mubenga death: three men arrested
 Jimmy Mubenga death: three men arrestedThree bailed by police in case of man who died on aeroplane after being heavily restrained
   Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 October 2010 18.09 BST Article history
Jimmy Mubenga. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Three men have been arrested by police in connection with the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee who collapsed while being escorted on a flight from Heathrow airport in London.

The Metropolitan police confirmed that the men were interviewed by police "by appointment" at a west London police station and released on bail.

Mubenga, 46, died after losing consciousness on BA flight 77 around 8pm last Tuesday. Four passengers have since told the Guardian they saw three security guards heavily restraining Mubenga, who they said consistently complained about his breathing.

The three guards worked for G4S, a private security firm contracted to escort deportees for the Home Office.

Those arrested are aged 35, 48 and 49 and were questioned by police under caution today. None have been charged, and police sources said they were interviewed "in connection" with the death.

In a statement, Scotland Yard said: "Police investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Jimmy Mubenga in west London have today arrested three men by appointment at a West London police station.

"All have been bailed to a date in December pending further inquiries. Inquiries continue to establish the full circumstances of the incident. The death is being treated as unexplained at this stage."

According to the witnesses who spoke to the Guardian, Mubenga was handcuffed and sat between two guards at the rear of the aircraft. They kept him restrained in his seat as he began shouting and seeking to resist his deportation.

The passengers, who were sat nearby, reported Mubenga shouting "I can't breathe" before finally passing out.

Police and paramedics were called when Mubenga lost consciousness, and the aircraft, which had been due to take off, returned to the terminal.

The Home Office and British Airways have all declined to comment . G4S said in a statement: "Three of our employees are continuing to help the police with their investigation. As a result of that ongoing investigation we are unable to provide additional comment at this time."

Scotland Yard's homicide unit took over the investigation on Friday after the death became categorised as "unexplained". Detectives based at Heathrow were previously investigating the death and had interviewed passengers on the flight.

An initial postmortem on Mubenga's body took place at Hillingdon mortuary 48 hours after his death and was inconclusive, but experts are awaiting the results of laboratory tests. "Further tests will be conducted in due course in order to establish the cause of death," the police statement said.

Last week MPs called for a "wide-ranging and independent inquiry" into the UK's deportation system in light of the death.

Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, added that he would be writing to the home secretary, Theresa May, and G4S about possible questions surrounding the death.

"If, as eyewitness reports suggest, Mr Mubenga was complaining of breathing difficulties, questions must be asked as to why help was not called for sooner," he said.

"I will be writing to both the home secretary and G4S on this matter whilst awaiting the outcome of police investigations. When removing people from the UK, human rights must be fully respected at all times."

Mubenga's family have called on witnesses to come forward. "I want the truth to come out," said his son Roland, 16. "That's what I want so I know how my father passed away."

Tonight a fifth passenger on the aircraft came forward to echo concerns about Mubenga's treatment. The witness did not want to be identified, but recalled how - in an apparent reference to the failure of fellow passengers, who did not intervene - Mubenga said: "What kind of people are you that you do nothing?"

David Blanchflower: spending cuts could lead to recession

David Blanchflower: spending cuts could lead to recession• Chancellor's cuts 'misguided', says former MPC member
• Coalition guilty of 'appalling cowardice'
• Business leaders who support cuts making 'terrible mistake'
 Julia Kollewe guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 October 2010 16.33 BST Article history
David 'Danny' Blanchflower has repeatedly described the public spending cuts as the 'greatest macro-economic mistake in a century'. Photograph: David Moir/Reuters

Former Bank of England policymaker David Blanchflower today accused the government of cowardice in planning huge cuts in public spending to tackle the budget deficit.

Writing for the Guardian, Blanchflower said that chancellor George Osborne's cuts amounted to a surrender in the face of the financial crisis and warned that the policy of fiscal tightening would not work.

"A good way to think of what has happened is that we are struggling to recover from the effects of an economic war that has hit us hard," the outspoken Blanchflower, a trenchant critic of the cuts, wrote on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

"Faced with this economic war, this misguided coalition government has … shown appalling cowardice; rather than fight, Osborne is about to run up the white flag of defeat. His response is the equivalent of surrendering immediately because of the potential impact of the war on the deficit. It's as ridiculous as that."

His comments, which come two days before the government sets out £80bn of spending cuts, are at odds with the views of 35 business leaders, including Marks & Spencer chairman Sir Stuart Rose and BT boss Ian Livingston, who have written an open letter in today's Daily Telegraph to express support for Osborne's cuts. They say there is "no reason to believe" the chancellor's plan to eliminate the structural deficit within four years will undermine the economic recovery.

The 35 also warn that Labour's plan to spread deficit reduction over more than one parliament would leave the UK almost £100bn deeper in debt by 2014/15 and increase the risk of interest rate hikes.

Blanchflower rejected this analysis, telling Bloomberg television that the business leaders "are not economists. It's a terrible, terrible mistake. The sensible thing to do is to spread [the cuts] over a long time."

He has repeatedly described the public spending cuts as the "greatest macro-economic mistake in a century".

"Clearly you have to deal with the deficit, but there is no economics that says you have to deal with it in a week or a month," Blanchflower said. "You have to be mindful of the data and if the data turns down, which it has, you have to adapt.

"The last thing you do in a recession is make things worse."

Blanchflower also said the Bank of England appears to be the government's "only back-up plan" but that additional quantitative easing may not work fast enough to help the economy.

The businessmen's letter was drawn up by Lord Wolfson, the Conservative peer and chief executive of Next. In the letter, signed by Asda chairman Andy Bond, Gordon Frazer, the managing director of Microsoft UK, and Carphone Warehouse chairman Charles Dunstone, the business leaders write: "Everyone knows that when you have a debt problem, delaying the necessary action will make it worse not better. The cost of delay is enormous, and would result in almost £100bn of additional national debt by the end of this parliament alone.

"In the end, the result of delay would be deeper cuts, or further tax rises, in order to pay for the extra debt interest. The cost of delay could be even greater than this. As recent events in some European countries have demonstrated, if the markets lose faith in the UK, interest rates will rise for all of us."

BBC offers to pay for World Service to avoid licence fee raid

BBC offers to pay for World Service to avoid licence fee raidCorporation fears government plan to make it pay £556m bill for free TV licences for over-75s

 Dan Sabbagh guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 October 2010 11.31 BST Article history
Mark Thompson: willing to pay some or all of £300m annual costs of running the World Service. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, is prepared to meet some or all of the £300m annual costs of running the World Service, in a last-ditch attempt to prevent a £556m raid on its finances to fund the cost of free TV licences for the over-75s, MediaGuardian.co.uk can reveal.

Embroiled in crisis talks over BBC financing in the hours before the government's comprehensive spending review is agreed, the corporation's negotiators have been told that ministers are also considering whether to force the BBC to meet the costs of the World Service, which is currently paid for by the Foreign Office.

That would be an alternative to making the BBC pay out £556m to fund the costs of free television licences for anywhere home to an elderly person – a bill that may force existing television and radio budgets to be slashed.

Thompson's team says it is time to "start having a more reasonable conversation" about the BBC paying for the World Service because the service is a broadcaster, although it is not clear if the BBC would be prepared to pay the entire bill through the licence fee. By contrast, if the BBC were forced to fund the cost of free TV licences for the elderly there would be no benefit for most viewers on screen or on air.

Political sources report that the government's position is in a state of flux, as negotiations go down to the wire. However, there are indications this morning that ministers are moving towards favouring the BBC bearing the costs of the World Service because of the political complications of the alternative.

Yesterday, the BBC set down its opposition to paying for free TV licences, with the BBC Trust saying it "would be unacceptable for licence-fee payers to pick up a bill for what is a universal benefit". The cost of funding the benefit, received by 4m homes, almost exactly matches the £575m budget for BBC2.

Ministers are searching for last-minute cost-saving proposals after the Ministry of Defence achieved a better than expected settlement. Defence budgets are being cut by 8%, rather than the 10% originally expected, leading to a funding gap elsewhere.

There are suggestions that the World Service could be funded by some of the profits made by BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm, which licenses formats such as Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and Top Gear overseas. Last year, Worldwide made an operating profit of £140m, although that cash is used to fund the BBC's wider activities.

Although the bulk of the BBC's activities are funded by the £145.50 television licence fee, the World Service has always been funded directly by the government. Traditionally the World Service has been focused on "lifeline" short-wave radio services for countries such as Burma where independent local broadcasters are weak, but in recent years activity has shifted to developing more expensive Arabic and Farsi (Persian) television channels.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that "no comments were being made prior to the announcement of the spending review".

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