Decision near on tunnel link: MacGregor to choose between London and Kent sites for intermediate station

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The Independent Online
JOHN MacGregor, the Transport Secretary, is expected this week to announce the intermediate station on the Channel Tunnel fast rail link.

The decision, which had been expected last month, will allow the four consortia shortlisted to build the link to finalise their tenders.

Mr MacGregor's choice between sites at Stratford and Rainham, east London, and Ebbsfleet, Kent, is seen as an important indicator of government attitude to the competing road and rail lobbies.

Stratford, one of the two more likely choices, would tie the link into London's public transport system and provide a strong impetus to the regeneration of one of the capital's most deprived areas.

Ebbsfleet, the other leading contender, is near the M25 motorway. Biggest beneficiary of this option would be Blue Circle, which owns the land on which the proposed station would be built and thousands of acres nearby that could be developed.

Blue Circle is also a member of one of the four consortia bidding to build and operate the 68-mile railway from London to the Channel Tunnel. London & Capital Railways also includes Ove Arup, the consulting engineer, and National Express, the coach operator.

Blue Circle has a large commitment to north-west Kent due to the 10,000 acres of surplus land it owns in the county. Last week it announced the sale of a 288-acre former chalk quarry to Lend Lease, an Australian financial services group that plans to build Britain's largest out-of-town shopping centre on the site.

Mr MacGregor said on Friday that he had still not made up his mind on the location of the station, which will be the only stop between Ashford, Kent, and the fast link's terminus at St Pancras.

The choice between Stratford and Ebbsfleet has been complicated by the failure of Crossrail, the east-west rail link across the capital, which it is thought would stand a better chance of success if it was tied into the fast link.

Bids from the four consortia, detailing how they plan to build and finance the link, are due by the end of the year. A winner will be chosen by April 1995.

The Treasury has already pledged to give the chosen consortium assets worth pounds 1.4bn, mostly accounted for by the St Pancras and Waterloo international stations.

It will also inherit revenues from European Passenger Services, the recently hived off British Rail division that will run a slow service on existing tracks until the link is completed in about 2002.