BR to scrap King's Cross plan

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PLANS TO build a pounds 1.4bn low- level terminus for the Channel rail link at London's King's Cross are about to be scrapped by British Rail in favour of a cheaper option involving the remodelling of St Pancras station.

The rejection of the low-level station also throws into question the redevelopment of the 134-acre site north of King's Cross by the London Regeneration Consortium. A planning application by the LRC, which consists of the property companies Rosehaugh and Stanhope, and NFC, the freight group, for 5.25 million square feet of offices had been accepted by Camden Council, as long as the low-level terminal was built. BR has been advised that LRC is possibly entitled to up to pounds 40m compensation if the work does not go ahead.

British Rail has indicated that it is ready to accept the change by merging its King's Cross project, on which pounds 30m of development money has been spent in the past five years, with Union Railways, the BR subsidiary planning the rail link.

The merger, which BR has not yet formally announced, will mean that John Prideaux, chairman of Union Railways, will head the joint team. He is known to favour adapting the under-used St Pancras as the second Channel tunnel international terminal because it will probably cost half the low-level plan. This move will make the rail-link project more viable, although the Government still wants it to be largely financed by the private sector.

Next Monday, Union Railways is to submit the final part of its report on the rail link's route to the British Rail board and will recommend the St Pancras option. Trains currently using St Pancras, including InterCity services to Sheffield, will be moved to King's Cross, and plans for a new booking hall, designed by Sir Norman Foster, between the two stations will be scrapped.

Using St Pancras makes an earlier idea of building a tunnel from Stratford, east London, to the new King's Cross station impractical because the gradients would be too steep. Now trains will run in a tunnel between Stratford and Dalston, and then alongside the BR North London Line. This already has space for extra tracks, running to St Pancras west of Barnsbury in Islington.

The famous Victorian Gothic facade of St Pancras and the train shed will be preserved, but the platforms will be rebuilt to accommodate the 400m-long trains that will run to Paris and Brussels. The station will also be used as the London stopping point for trains running to and from the tunnel to the North.

The scrapping of the low-level station will also jeopardise the Thameslink 2000 project. Its trains, running from Peterborough, Bedford and King's Lynn to Portsmouth, Brighton and Faversham, were to have shared the station with the international trains. This part of the project will now become the responsibility of Network SouthEast but there is no money to develop it.

Permission for the low-level station was being sought through Parliament by a private BR Bill that has been awaiting its third reading in the Lords since last year because of doubts over the future of the terminus. BR is now likely to withdraw the Bill.

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