WHEN Britain’s Transport Secretary John Prescott made an ’emergency statement’ to the House of Commons on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link on January 28, he triggered a frantic 30-day scramble to try and put together a financial package that would rescue the 108 km line from collapse (p151). The latest twist in the long-running saga of the CTRL, not unfamiliar to readers of these pages, is a reminder of just how difficult it is to push through high speed line projects. While the CTRL has Royal Assent, the scheme could yet fail at the funding hurdle.

Nor is it alone. Only a few days after Prescott’s statement, the French government announced on February 4 that two-thirds of the TGV Est project will be built, with construction starting in 1999 (p190). But we have been here before. Go-aheads, green lights and approvals of all kinds for TGV Est have been granted on numerous occasions since it was first proposed in the early 1980s, but so far it has never progressed beyond a line on the map.

While this time money has been made available for the final engineering design stage, the funding arrangements are still not properly sorted out. It seems that the government is counting on promises rather than firm agreements from the EU and Luxembourg, and even after all that the total funding is still well short of the Fr18·7bn required.

South Korea’s difficulties with the Seoul - Pusan high speed line are rather different, but it seems likely that a detailed review will call all aspects of the project into question once President-elect Kim Dae Jung takes office on February 25. GEC Alsthom issued a statement on January 16 confirming that Korea High Speed Rail Construction Authority has been asked to consider postponing construction of part of the line, and we understand that this could mean that only the Seoul - Taejon section will be completed. Construction of the Taejon - Pusan section may be replaced by simply electrifying the existing tracks.

News from Taiwan is mixed. A symbolic start-of-work ceremony for the Taipei - Kaohsiung high speed line planned before the New Year did not take place, and reports in January indicated that winning bidder Taiwan High Speed Rail Consortium was not finding it easy to secure local funding for the NT$337bn project. Despite this, THSRC issued a request for qualification for civil engineering work on February 13, with responses due later this month. The Franco-German rolling stock partners are due to start trials at the end of May with a unique test train formed of two ICE2 power cars and six double-deck TGV Duplex trailers. It will run between G