Branson in last round of rail link fight

Virgin victories: Breakthrough on Channel Tunnel but cinema chain was won at a high cost

Eurorail, the consortium led by Lord Parkinson, and London & Continental, which includes Richard Branson's Virgin, have beaten off two other challengers for the right to bid to build the pounds 3bn Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

The two groups now go forward to a final shortlist. They have been the most high-profile and confident of the four bidders and yesterday Brian Mawhinney, the Transport Secretary, announced that the two other contenders - Union Link, which includes John Mowlem, and Green Arrow, led by Hochtief - had been eliminated from the competition. He said the bids had been judged on the basis of how much government cash they required to build the line, the level of risk they were prepared to take and the "evaluation of other transport benefits".

The Government is under pressure to build the 70-mile high-speed line between St Pancras and Folkestone quickly because of the embarassing contrast with France, which built its high-speed line in time for the opening of the Channel Tunnel. Dr Mawhinney stressed that the Government was on target to meet the schedule of announcing the winner before the end of the year. The line is expected to be completed by 2002 at the earliest.

The losing bidders will receive a government grant of a third of their costs, with a maximum of pounds 1.5m, paltry compensation given that one of the two consortiums is thought to have spent pounds 14m.

Ministers had originally hoped to limit the Government's contribution to pounds 1.5bn - this includes European Passenger Services, the government company that runs the Eurostar trains connecting London with Paris and Brussels. But it is now thought this figure will be greatly exceeded.

The two remaining bids are different in emphasis and character. London & Continental has made a virtue of the fact that its bid is not contractor- led, reflecting its long-term interest in running the rail service on the CTRL. It is seeking to run trains in conjuction with the West Coast Main Line, providing places such as Birmingham and Liverpool with a fast connection to the Continent.

Eurorail, which includes Trafalgar House, is seeking to build the line in two phases and also wants the most expensive part of the project, the tunnel between Barking and Islington, to be built in a cheaper single- bore tunnel rather than a twin bore.

Minutes of the Government's assessment committee which is considering the bids, leaked to the Independent in May, revealed that Eurorail's original bid was the most non-compliant of the four bidders but the consortium had been allowed to provide a late compliant bid.

The leak also revealed that allowing the bid process to take place simultaneously with consideration of the Parliamentary Bill was causing great difficulties to the assessment committee.Since the leak, ministers have agreed that no change in the route can be made without jeopardising the progress of the Bill, and this means that the process is likely to keep to schedule. Yesterday Dr Mawhinney attempted to ensure that bidders stop trying to press for alternative routes by saying: "We have no intention of changing the route for the new line."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before