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False starts and flying starts


Today's the day. 1st March. St David's Day. And the day on which three start-up companies were due to launch new transport links in or around the British Isles.

Today’s the day. 1st March. St David’s Day. And the day on which three start-up companies were due to launch new transport links in or around the British Isles.


There is one thing to be said for Euroferries, the company which claims on its website to be “the leading fast ferry operator on the English Channel.” It is at least utterly predictable. Three times last year, the company set a start date for its proposed new ferry route from Ramsgate to Boulogne. And three times it failed to get started. And that was in the wake of earlier unsuccessful attempts to launch services from Dover to France.

After Euroferries’ third unsuccessful attempt to get a service started from Ramsgate, on 14 November last year, the company announced yet another try and started taking bookings from 1 March 2010. And the timetable on the company’s website confirmed a new schedule effective from today.

But there has been no sign of life from Euroferries at either of its proposed ports this week. The company’s website has not been updated, and calls to the company’s UK telephone number elicit only the same recorded message that has been there for the last weeks.

Fastnet Line

The new Swansea to Cork ferry service operated by Fastnet Line was also due to launch today, reinstating a lost link between South Wales and the Republic of Ireland’s second largest city. And that too has apparently run into difficulties with the start date now postponed till the coming Friday. The service uses the MV Julia, a large cruise ferry which last saw service on the Helsinki to St Petersburg run.

When we contacted Fastnet on Saturday, a spokesperson said that the company was unable to offer help to passengers left stranded by the cancellations and now looking for alternative routes. "Just a refund of the fare paid, or rebooking on one of our crossings later this month," she said.

Varsity Express

But not every maiden venture gets postponed. Today saw clear skies and perfect flying weather over Oxford for the first flight of the new British start-up airline Varsity Express - we reported in January on the media announcements about this service. No matter that Varsity Express does not own a plane, nor does it have an Air Operator’s Certificate. Undaunted, Varsity is paying a certificated carrier, LinksAir, to operate flights on its behalf.

Flight LNQ 601 took off bang on time, inaugurating the first ever non-stop scheduled air service between Oxford and Edinburgh. This is flying as it used to be, with an 18-seater Jetstream twin turboprop being used for the flight which takes about 100 minutes. By chance the plane is the same age as Varsity’s ambitious young founder: 24 years. But with all but a couple of seats on every flight being sold at the full fare of 279 pounds return, we guess a lot of travellers might opt for the much cheaper rail services that connect the two university towns.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(hidden europe)

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