Pounds 2.5bn CrossRail plan in jeopardy

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT looks set to cancel the pounds 2.5bn CrossRail project this week after management consultants failed to support the scheme to link rail lines in the east of London with lines in the west.

The feasibility study for the Transport Secretary John MacGregor - produced by a team of six consultants including Bovis, Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners and Schroders - will be considered by the Cabinet on Thursday. The Independent on Sunday has learned that while the report supports the route chosen by British Rail on engineering terms, it has not come to a view on the economic feasibility. The report is understood to say that the project was feasible when first conceived in 1989, but the subsequent fall-off in City employment levels has raised a question mark over the economics. It has not gone as far as saying it is not justified.

The lack of a strong endorsement has undermined the Department of Transport's support for the project. It will also strengthen the case of Michael Portillo, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has strongly opposed CrossRail.

The Treasury has said it could only support the project if the costs were cut to pounds 2bn and more than half that money came from the private sector.

CrossRail's adviser, County NatWest, has said it would be unlikely to raise more than pounds 800m from the private sector and that the project would probably have cost pounds 3bn by completion.

This is despite strong support from the Corporation of London, which has proposed a radical plan to raise pounds 500m through a levy on top of the rates of City firms.

Sir Alexander Gibb has also come up with much cheaper alternatives to the line, which would carry some of its benefits. One is to bring the new Heathrow Express trains into the City using the route of the Hammersmith & City Metropolitan underground line.

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